Providence Journal: RI lawmakers enter "net neutrality" battle
Can tiny Rhode Island help save the internet? A group of state lawmakers thinking that way want to insert the state — and its telecommunications spending — into the national battle to prevent internet service providers from creating slow and fast lanes for different sites and services.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Maybe tiny Rhode Island can help save the internet.
A group of state lawmakers thinking that way want to insert the state — and its telecommunications spending — into the national battle to prevent internet service providers from creating slow and fast lanes for different sites and services.
Backed by civil libertarians, good-government groups and librarians, legislators Thursday rallied in support of bills that would block public-sector contracts with internet service providers that don’t observe so-called “net neutrality” principles of equal treatment across the web. The effort comes in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s vote late last year to end net neutrality rules and allow internet providers to charge more for certain content, block content and slow loading speeds for different sites.
“Very powerful interests, like cable companies, can now increase their profits by setting up priority ‘toll’ lanes, where you must pay more to access more,” state Rep. J. Aaron Regunberg, a Providence Democrat, candidate for lieutenant governor and sponsor of the House version of the net neutrality bill, said at a State House news conference. “They can hinder their competition and keep new, smaller businesses from challenging them. And they can censor political speech they don’t agree with.”
His legislation and a similar bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, would require all state, quasi-state and municipal contracts subject to competitive bidding and involving an internet connection — including mobile phone services — to comply with net neutrality.
Regunberg and DiPalma said the bill would apply to existing contracts as well as future purchases.
They said they don’t know how many state contracts and how much money would be at stake, but have requested that information.
The DiPalma bill would require that all internet access purchased or funded by the state does not “block lawful content,” “impair or degrade ... traffic based on its content,” or “engage in paid prioritization.”
The bill focuses on state purchasing because the FCC preemptively blocked states and municipalities from regulating net neutrality directly within their borders.
DiPalma said the bill was modeled on pending legislation in New York state.
“These are pretty lucrative contacts,” DiPalma said at the State House event.
The net neutrality bills are supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Rhode Island Library Association and Common Cause Rhode Island.
Andrea Palagi, spokeswoman for Lt. Gov Daniel McKee, whom Regunberg is challenging in the Democratic primary, wrote in an email that McKee “supports legislation in the General Assembly that will protect consumers by upholding net neutrality rules in Rhode Island.”