There was a Depression-era sign we saw once, in a photograph of a gas station. It said, “Free air – It’s your country, don’t let the big boys take it away from you.”
We admired the simplicity, with its dash of Woody Guthrie. We feel the same way about net neutrality. Does the internet belong to the service providers?
Net neutrality is a simple concept, even if the Federal Communications Commission cannot get its hands around it. It means that ISPs – the service providers, such as CenturyLink, Charter and AT&T – cannot discriminate or charge differently based on the user, content or provider. They can’t throttle your speed because you or the content provider did not pay them a little something extra.
In lieu of the FCC seeing it that way, the state Legislature and its Democratic majorities stepped in like Underdog to save the day. Senate Bill 19-078, “Open Internet Customer Protections In Colorado,” passed both houses on party-line votes and will be signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis.
Can Colorado really regulate the internet?
Yes and no. The bill “disqualifies an internet service provider... from receiving money through a grant from the broadband deployment board... or through any state fund established to help finance broadband deployment,” if it engages in non-neutral practices that can hurt consumers and enrich providers. The state is cinching its purse strings as much as asserting its authority.
“A lot of the bills we saw getting in trouble in other states, or bills that were facing a lot of opposition, were more about sending a message of net neutrality instead of looking for a fulcrum point for state action,” Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Vail and the bill’s sponsor, told the Colorado Sun. “This bill says that if you’re going to ask to be funded by the people in Colorado directly out of their paycheck, then you need to adhere to these principles.”
Industry representatives said the bill would create an unnavigable patchwork of state-by-state regulation, which is about what you would expect if states are forced to do the work of the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission.
They are saying it would be easier if they could do what they wanted where they wanted when they wanted. Well, yes.
It was also opposed by the Colorado Competitive Council, whose director, Nicholas J. Colglazier, told the Sun the bill would confuse “the regulatory certainty that exists in Colorado today.” The Colorado Competitive Council was formed as an affiliate of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Its website lists its investors, which include AT&T, CenturyLink and Comcast Cable Communications.
Lest we leave you with the impression that there are always wise stewards of policy in the statehouse, in the House debate on the net neutrality bill last week, an amendment was introduced to exempt ISPs from net neutrality if they filter out sexually explicit or graphic violent content. It failed on a tied vote, 32-32.
Half the members of the state House voted to censor the internet. These are adults who have been to school and have some familiarity with civics, history and the Bill of Rights. Yet they assumed Colorado could arrogate and grant that majestic power on their say-so. And just when they were doing so well looking out for the little guy.
Sometimes we forget ourselves.
The legislative session ends May 9. We implore senators and representatives to use their powers for good alone for the next 26 days.