Less than a week after the Federal Communications Commission rolled back net neutrality rules, two DFL legislators announced a plan to “counteract” the decision and said they hope other states take similar steps.
Rep. Paul Thissen and Sen. Ron Latz said Tuesday they would introduce legislation next year prohibiting internet service providers, like Comcast and Verizon, from blocking residents’ access to websites and applications. Under the FCC’s new rules, companies could potentially block or slow down service for certain sites and charge more for higher speeds or access.
“The internet is an essential part of our prosperous economy and an essential part of a healthy democracy, and we need the internet to be a space where people have free speech,” said Thissen, of Minneapolis. “We should not allow the gatekeepers … to block people based on their content or to block people based on the fact that they can’t pay as much.”
The Republican-dominated FCC last week repealed rules put in place during President Barack Obama’s term.
Supporters of the change said the regulations were overly burdensome and discouraged companies from investing in broadband. FCC officials said they would pre-empt states from circumventing the change.
However, Thissen said when the state government buys internet service or allows a provider to install infrastructure, it could require that company to comply with the certain net neutrality and data privacy rules.
“We have every right to say, ‘We will give you that grant, but we are going to condition it on making sure you are protecting Minnesota residents and Minnesota consumers’ rights,’ ” he said. Still, it’s likely such requirements by state government would draw legal challenges.
Without this legislation, Latz, of St. Louis Park, said he worries companies would track which topics and websites people prefer and charge them more for an internet package that includes what they are interested in.
Latz proposed a measure to protect data privacy during the last session, which he said had broad support but was not included in the final jobs and energy bill. Latz said he believes legislators will rally in support of their new plan.
“I think we are on the right side of history on this one,” he said.