A Nebraska lawmaker introduced a bill Friday to restore rules preventing internet service providers from slowing your ability to binge television shows on Netflix or blocking search engines that aren't Google.
The “Internet Neutrality Act” (LB856), introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, would restore the federal rules at the state level, prohibiting broadband internet service providers from “limiting or restricting access to web sites, applications, or content.”
“For me, this is an economic development and consumer protection bill,” Morfeld said. “The internet drives the economy now and it’s critical people have open and fair access to the internet.”
Morfeld announced his intention to introduce the bill shortly after the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along party lines to repeal the Obama-era regulations on Dec. 14.
Along with lifting the regulations that made it illegal for internet service providers to block or slow access to websites they did not own, net neutrality also prevents those providers from charging extra fees to customers, a "pay-to-play" arrangement in order to connect to certain websites or use applications that eat up large amounts of internet bandwidth.
Morfeld said the idea of reintroducing net neutrality rules at the state level received support from across the political spectrum.
“I knew I was passionate about it, but I was shocked at the support I received from Republicans, from Democrats and Libertarians,” he said.
Other states are also considering legislation to re-enact net neutrality rules on a local basis while activists groups and several state attorneys general have sued the FCC to stop the repeal of the rule.
Washington state lawmakers, anticipating the repeal to net neutrality rules, hope to force broadband companies to disclose accurate information about the price and speed of their services, while also preventing those companies from creating so-called “fast lanes” for consumers who pay more.
In California, a bill was introduced earlier this week to regulate internet service providers as public utilities and to block them from using utility poles unless they agreed to comply with the net neutrality rules. The California bill also prohibits government agencies from contracting with internet service providers who do not uphold net neutrality commitments.
The state-by-state legislation being introduced could become the subject of a second net neutrality-related lawsuit. In the 539-page declaratory ruling by the FCC published on Jan. 4, the commission indicates that the federal rules pre-empt any local legislation passed into law by state governments.
“(A)llowing state or local regulation of broadband Internet access service could impair the provision of such service by requiring each ISP to comply with a patchwork of separate and potentially conflicting requirements across all of the different jurisdictions in which it operates,” the ruling states.
LB856 echoes parts of the Washington bill requiring broadband providers to publicly disclose accurate information regarding management practices, service performance and prices to users.
Morfeld's proposal also aims to prevent internet service providers from blocking or restricting content and applications on certain devices, while also preventing those companies from practicing “paid prioritization,” or providing better internet service to customers who pay more.
Those provisions of the bill include exemptions for “reasonable network management” based on technical abilities and not business practices.
The Nebraska Telecommunications Association, which said it would study Morfeld's bill before taking a position on it, circulated a white paper among its 30 member companies last year describing the 2015 rules as trying "to fit a square peg in a round hole."
"We need common rules of the road that apply evenly to all players in the internet ecosystem," the paper states, adding that the net neutrality rules only applied to retail broadband providers and not major companies like Google, Amazon or Facebook.
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