Massachusetts proposes net neutrality law to call out bad ISPs

The exterior of the Massachusetts State House in Boston 

Boston Globe

Massachusetts plans to protect net neutrality by naming and shaming internet service providers that don’t adhere to open internet principles.

Lawmakers in the state Senate have proposed a bill (S2160) that would create an “internet service provider registry” to track whether broadband and wireless providers adhere to policies that keep the internet open and neutral, including ensuring that content isn’t blocked and that access to sites and services aren’t slowed down or throttled. ISPs that keep consumer data private and meet net neutrality guidelines can get a “Massachusetts Net Neutrality and Consumer Privacy Seal” of approval.

The bill passed the state Senate last week and will next be considered by the state’s House of Representatives.  

The legislation is a novel approach taken by a state in the wake of the FCC’s repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality protections passed in 2015. In December, the Republican-led FCC rolled back the regulations, which prevent internet service providers from blocking or slowing access and prohibits carriers from charging internet companies a fee to access customers faster. The rules officially expired in June.

Several states, including California, Oregon, and Washington are pushing through legislation to protect these principles. Meanwhile governors in other states, like New York and Montana, have already signed executive orders banning the states from doing business with companies that don’t comply with net neutrality.

The approach Massachusetts is taking is different because it doesn’t ban discriminatory behavior outright, but rather pressures ISPs to follow net neutrality principles.

Unnamed sources told the site Motherboard that state lawmakers decided to go this route rather than banning anti-net neutrality practices because they feared imposing their own net neutrality rules would be challenged in court. One of the provisions in the FCC’s order to rollback the 2015 rules pre-empts or bans states from adopting their own regulation.  The FCC argues allowing states to pass their own rules would create a patchwork of regulation that would be too burdensome for ISPs, which generally provide service across state lines, to follow.

ISP lobbying groups, such as the  New England Cable & Telecommunications Association oppose the Massachusetts legislation, claiming it will hurt innovation and economic growth.

Democrats in the US Congress are trying to reinstate the FCC’s rules through the Congressional Review Act. A CRA resolution  passed the Senate last month and must pass the House of Representatives by the end of the year. If it passes both houses of congress, it still has to be signed into law by President Donald Trump to officially turn back the repeal of the rules.

There are also several lawsuits filed against the FCC to reinstate the 2015 federal rules. Massachusetts is one of 23 states involved in such a suit.

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