Ever since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed its net neutrality rules last year, there has been massive public outcry. Net neutrality is the principle of open access to the internet. It enables users to access the services they want without interference from their internet service provider. Without the FCC’s net neutrality rules, internet service providers are free to block websites, deliberately speed up or slow down traffic from specific websites, or charge customers special fees for improved access.
With so much control internet service providers can impose on the internet, it’s no surprise the FCC’s net neutrality rules were overwhelmingly popular. The most recent national poll shows 86 percent of Americans opposed the repeal of net neutrality including 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats
States across the country are stepping up to fill the massive gap created by the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. Over 26 states have introduced net neutrality legislation. Washington and Oregon became the first two states to pass bills that restore net neutrality. Five other states have signed executive orders that require internet service providers to abide by net neutrality as a condition of winning state contracts. While state action may take different forms, the message is clear that states can and must play a role to ensure net neutrality.
Connecticut has attempted to pass net neutrality legislation, but opposition from Republican senators and internet service providers has hurt these efforts. Connecticut’s Senate Bill 2, would restore the FCC’s popular net neutrality rules by prohibiting internet service providers from blocking, throttling, or otherwise discriminating against web content. But Republican senators used a procedural maneuver to prevent the bill from making it out of the state’s Energy and Technology Committee. The Committee’s Republican co-chair was able to split the committee and prevent House democrats on the Committee from voting for the bill. This seldom-used trick shows the lengths internet service providers will go to kill common sense net neutrality rules despite their overwhelming popularity.
Connecticut still has a chance to pass net neutrality legislation, but the clock is ticking. Legislators should explore ways to revive the bill and get it passed. Senators also need to hear from their constituents on why net neutrality is important to them. The internet has become the essential communications service of the 21st century. Americans rely on the internet for access to the news and information, education, employment, healthcare, and a host of other services. People in Connecticut who rely on any of these services could see their access blocked or throttled by internet service providers. Young people whom we hope will stay in the state may decide the state is not interested in technological innovation or the free flow of information. Connecticut small businesses who rely on the internet may be forced to pay fees to reach customers online.
A free and open internet is critical to a functioning democracy. The free flow of information online and the exchange of ideas depends on net neutrality. Otherwise, internet service providers see where we go and what we see online. Connecticut still has a chance to save net neutrality. But we must act now to do so.
Cheri Quickmire is the Executive Director of Common Cause in Connecticut. Yosef Getachew is the National Director of the Common Cause Media and Democracy Program in Washington, D.C.