Colorado Net Neutrality Bill Tightens Taxpayer Cash to ISPs

While the state does not have the authority to overrule the Federal Communications Commission, it can cut the flow of taxpayer money to Internet service providers that fail to comply with state rules.

by Justin Wingerter, The Denver Post / April 9, 2019
Colorado State Capitol Shutterstock

(TNS) — Colorado is one step away from having its own net neutrality law — one that would prohibit Internet service providers from receiving Colorado taxpayer money if they slow access to the Internet or unfairly favor certain websites.

Senate Bill 78 passed the House and Senate along party lines, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed. Gov. Jared Polis, who founded an Internet company while in college, supports it.

The bill’s passage this year, after failure in the Senate last year, is another example of Democrats’ show of strength since taking control of the legislature’s upper chamber in the 2018 elections.

Net neutrality is the notion that Internet service providers should not favor certain types of Internet content by speeding it up or slowing other content down. The Federal Communications Commission supported net neutrality under President Barack Obama but has shifted direction under President Donald Trump, formally ending net neutrality protections last year.

SB 78 can’t overturn the FCC’s decision. Instead, it cuts off public money for Internet companies that don’t engage in net neutrality. Any provider that blocks lawful Internet content, prioritizes paid content, throttles bandwidth or doesn’t provide transparency for its practices must refund state grant money it has received in the past two years and is ineligible for more money in the future.

“If you receive taxpayer dollars to go out to rural Colorado and deploy broadband infrastructure,” Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, told a Senate committee, “then the state has the authority and the obligation to say that infrastructure is going to be used to treat everyone the same, because you are using state dollars.”

Net neutrality supporters in the legislature say most Internet service providers in the state are currently engaged in net neutrality and the legislation will only require them to continue the status quo. Opponents of the bill say that while they favor an open Internet, they oppose state mandates.

“We also oppose this legislation because strong consumer protections remain in place today, making it unnecessary,” Gerard Keegan with CTIA, a wireless communications industry group, told senators. “And the FCC has preempted states from acting in this area.”

The Colorado Competitive Council, a business group, also opposes the bill. Its director, Nick Colglazier, said he, too, supports an open Internet but sees no need for the legislation.

“Given the limited instances of alleged net neutrality violations over the 20-plus year history of the Internet – none of which appear to have happened in Colorado, to the best of my knowledge – even this relatively modest bill seems to be an overreaction,” Colglazier told senators.

An amendment to exclude from net neutrality requirements companies that filter out sexually explicit materials or graphic violent content was defeated on a 32-32 vote in the House on April 3. An amendment to prohibit search engines with biased search results from receiving grants failed 24-40 that day.

Meanwhile, the newly Democratic House in Congress has taken a more direct aim at the FCC’s decision on net neutrality. House Resolution 1644, which would restore net neutrality, has 197 Democratic sponsors and co-sponsors, including Colorado’s four House Democrats. It passed the Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday and now awaits a vote in the full House.

©2019 The Denver Post. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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