HARTFORD, CT — Democratic senators Friday successfully resurrected a bill that would give Connecticut’s utility regulators an opportunity to prohibit internet service providers from throttling internet speeds, blocking websites, or imposing prioritized pricing.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman broke an party-line 18-18 vote, casting the deciding vote in favor of the bill.
The Senate bill now goes to the House.
The original bill died in the Energy and Technology Committee after the committee split the vote. A similar House bill never made it out of the General Administration and Elections Committee.
Senate proponents gave the so-called “Net Neutrality” bill another attempt Friday, by attaching it as an amendment to a bill on shared solar power.
The measure became a priority of the Democratic caucus following the Federal Communications Commission decision to stop regulating how internet service providers treat data. That decision followed 15 years of both Republican and Democratic FCC chairs who believed the federal agency had the responsibility to oversee the market for broadband.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, called the FCC decision “a dangerous rollback by the Trump administration.”
Duff said he knows many believe that Connecticut should not make law concerning the internet and just let it be figured out on the federal level. If Connecticut acts, as other states have, the decision will likely be challenged in court.
“Lots of issues end up in court,” Duff said, stating that wasn’t a reason not to do the right thing.
Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, made that very argument.
“The internet cannot be governed by the state because it knows no state boundary, it knows no town boundary,” Formica said.
“States should not act on this bill,” he continued. “It is a federal initiative.” Formica said that states who do act “will face expensive lawsuits.”
In a letter to Senate Republican President Len Fasano, Attorney General George Jepsen said that because the bill would require Connecticut internet service providers to comply with state laws that are similar to the net neutrality principals the FCC has repealed and purported to pre-empt, it “would be in direct conflict of the FCC’s order.”
Jepsen said he would defend the state if necessary, but he was unable to provide a formal opinion because the state has joined a number of other states in a Petition for Review of the FCC’s decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, disagreed with Formica.
“We are a state of innovation,” Bye said, stating that not acting will “have a negative impact on startups and businesses in Connecticut.”
Bye said the internet issue “is as important as transportation issues” are to businesses in Connecticut.
“Our constituents are outraged about this,” she said, adding that from what she’s heard from people in her district people want “equal access without fast lanes and slow lanes” depending on their ability to pay.
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.
Gigi Sohn, a fellow at the Institute for Technology, Law and Policy at Georgetown Law, told the Energy and Technology Committee in April 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.”