Massachusetts Just The Latest State To Embrace Net Neutrality
from the boxing-in-bullies dept
In the wake of the FCC’s historically unpopular decision to gut net neutrality, more than half of the states in the nation are now exploring their own, state-level net neutrality rules. In some instances (Montana) states are signing executive orders that ban state agencies from doing business with ISPs that behave anti-competitively. Elsewhere (Oregon and Washington) states are passing new laws that largely mirror the FCC’s discarded 2015 rules, and in some instances (California) are a bit tougher than the FCC on things like usage caps or “zero rating.”
This week, Massachusetts began finalizing approval of S2610, which initially proposed doing many of the things other such bills do (banning ISP blocking, throttling, or crippling of competitor services and websites). But the bill has since been notably reworked to instead create a state-wide registry that ranks ISPs based on how terrible their service, pricing, privacy and other behaviors are:
“There shall be an internet service provider registry to make broadband internet access service quality and network management practices readily available to customers in the commonwealth. The department shall compile for the registry information disclosed by internet service providers in the commonwealth pursuant to this section and from the verification tests conducted pursuant to this section. The department shall organize the registry in a format that is conducive to review and comparison by customers and prospective customers of internet service. The registry shall be available on the department?s website and shall include net neutrality and consumer privacy grades under subsection (f) in comparison chart for fixed line internet service providers and 1 comparison chart for wireless internet service providers. The department shall provide the information in the registry upon request.”
ISPs that behave would be able to display a Massachusetts seal of approval to, purportedly, clearly advertise that they’re not terrible and anti-competitive. Efforts to actually include language preventing things like the blocking and throttling of competitors were supposed to be added via amendment, but were thwarted at the behest of telecom lobbying organizations according to regional news outlets. In conversations with state lawmakers, I’ve also been told that leaders wanted to tightly restrict the language in the bill to avoid ISP lawsuits, since the FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” repeal ironically tries to ban states from protecting consumers (you know, state rights and all that).
Since large ISPs convinced the Trump FCC to neuter not only FCC authority but many of the transparency requirements, having a registry that clearly illustrates what kind of connection you’re buying isn’t a terrible idea. That said, without any hard restrictions on bad behavior, relying solely on naming and shaming bad policy actors can only go so far. A lack of competition means that users can’t switch ISPs anyway, so while transparency is great and all, it alone isn’t going to force monopoly last mile broadband providers to magically behave.
As is usually the case, local broadband and TV providers tried to claim that rules actually preventing them from being anti-competitive bullies would hurt jobs, puppies, and innovation:
“Our members support and adhere to the principles of net neutrality every day while employing thousands of Massachusetts residents and investing over a billion dollars annually in the Commonwealth?s economy,? Tim Wilkerson, vice president of the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, said. ?The measure being considered in the Massachusetts Senate will do little to protect consumers while hurting innovation and economic growth.”
Even if these claims could be taken seriously, perhaps that’s something ISPs should have considered before they lobbied to dismantle popular and relatively modest (by international standards) net neutrality protections on the federal level. ISPs have promised to sue states that try and protect consumers in the wake of federal apathy, but they’ve yet to actually do so — in part because they’re nervous about looming legal challenges of the FCC repeal.