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Mass. Bill Would Bring Regulation Back to Broadband Industry

If passed, the proposed legislation would prevent Internet providers from blocking, throttling or engaging in the paid prioritization of providing Internet service to Massachusetts residents.

The Massachusetts capitol.
Massachusetts state Capitol
(David Kidd)
Should Internet providers have the ability to block, throttle or engage in the paid prioritization of providing Internet service? According to one Massachusetts lawmaker, the answer is “no,” prompting the proposal of a new bill to address the issue.

“This was really a reaction to the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] reversal during the Trump administration that took away some of the net neutrality provisions put in place during the Obama administration,” Sen. James Eldridge said.

In December 2017, the Restoring Internet Freedom Order was approved by a 3-2 FCC vote, resulting in legal protections for content discrimination, paid prioritization and influencing Internet traffic to end, opening the door for Internet providers to operate freely without recourse.

Since then, several state-level bills have been proposed to counteract the ruling.

A new bill in Massachusetts looks to combat the ruling by preventing Internet service providers from blocking lawful content, applications, services or traffic.

The bill also looks to prevent providers from giving money or favors to edge providers to deliver or carry Internet traffic from end users; blocking edge providers’ content or services; engaging in paid prioritization; or impacting users’ ability to access broadband services of their choice.

Massachusetts relies on the Internet to expand industry and education, Eldridge said. However, there’s room for improvement in connecting the state as a whole.

“Eastern Massachusetts is pretty good in terms of having good access,” Eldrige said. “But in poorer communities throughout the state, there are challenges with the digital divide of poorer families not having access.”

As a short-term fix, school districts in disadvantaged areas have provided hot spots for students to do their schoolwork from home.

However, even efforts like these aren’t enough to help the western part of the state, which has little to no Internet access.

“There are significant connection issues further west,” Eldridge said. “There is no broadband or Internet. As a legislator working virtually, my western Massachusetts colleagues have to call into Zoom meetings because the lack of Internet does not allow for video.”

To address these issues, the bill looks to do the following: establish a process for broadband companies to show that they won’t engage in discriminatory Internet practices; limit state benefits to broadband companies; restrict the applicability of pole attachment rules to broadband companies; review state benefits such as easements and taxes; and allow the attorney general to initiate fines and civil actions against companies that violate rules.

“It’s interesting because, during an in-person hearing during the last two sessions, lobbyists for Internet service providers like Verizon and AT&T have testified against the bill, saying they don’t block Internet service or don’t charge higher prices for improved access to websites,” Eldrige said.

“Why would they be opposed to these regulations to define that?” he added.

To get more perspective on the bill and how it will ensure a free and open Internet in the commonwealth, Government Technology reached out to the state’s Executive Office of Technology Services and Security.

However, the office declined an interview on the pending legislation, saying “the Baker-Polito Administration does not comment on pending legislation and will review any legislation that reaches Governor Baker’s desk.”
Katya Maruri is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.
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