HARTFORD, CT — Two Republicans in the Senate were able to defeat a bill, SB 2, that would have given Connecticut’s utility regulators an opportunity to prohibit internet service providers from throttling internet speeds, blocking websites, or imposing prioritized pricing.
Republican Sens. Paul Formica and Tony Hwang voted against the proposal, while Sens. Gary Winfield and Paul Doyle voted in favor of the proposal. The tie vote defeated the bill before the House members of the joint Energy and Technology Committee were able to vote on it.
The bill became a priority of the Democratic caucus following the Federal Communications Commission decision to stop regulating how internet service providers treat data. That decision came following 15 years of both Republican and Democratic FCC chairs who believed the federal agency had the responsibility to oversee the market for broadband.
Rep. Derek Slap, a West Hartford Democrat and a proponent of the Connecticut legislation, said he knows a lot of lawmakers are concerned about Connecticut writing laws that would pre-empt federal legislation. However, he said the feds no longer want to regulate this marketplace.
“We can’t pre-empt it if they say they’re not going to regulate it at all,” Slap said.
Hwang, who voted against the measure, said he’s still concerned about pre-emption and the cost of possible litigation if Connecticut goes this route.
Gigi Sohn, a fellow at the Institute for Technology, Law and Policy at Georgetown Law, told the committee earlier this month that when the federal government’s decision to end regulation leaves a gap in protecting consumers, the states must step in.
“While the FCC purports to pre-empt the states from doing so, their argument for doing so is weak for two reasons,” Sohn said. “First, Congress has made clear that when it comes to communications networks like BIAS, the states have a role in protecting consumers. Indeed, the FCC and the states regulated telephone and cable service for decades. Second, the FCC cannot say it has no authority to oversee the broadband market and at the same time, pre-empt the states from doing so. The FCC’s pre-emption power is directly tied to its regulatory power. The FCC has washed its hands of broadband oversight — it cannot now also wash the states’ hands.”
Hwang said it’s an interstate commerce issue and needs to be addressed at the federal level.
“It is ultimately a federal issue,” Hwang said.
Formica said it’s become more a political issue and he’s in favor of stopping discussion on it at the committee level.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said the decision to stop debate on this issue will hurt small businesses in Connecticut.
“Connecticut’s businesses, startups, students, and consumers need an open internet,” Duff said. “I will continue to fight for a fair, open, and accessible internet.”
Duff said that without net neutrality, internet providers will be able to control and decide which websites and content appear on the internet. That can slow competitors or block any political content with which they disagree. Internet Service Providers will also be able to charge extra money to support the content of the few companies that will be able to pay, which hurts small business and consumers.
Internet service providers and cable companies told the committee that they didn’t have plans to change their current practices that existed under a regulatory framework.
Governors in five states — Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana, and Vermont — have signed executive orders regarding net neutrality, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And legislators in 27 states have introduced 61 bills requiring internet service providers ensure various net neutrality principles. Washington and Oregon have passed laws.