Net Neutrality Bill Passes Senate

Net Neutrality Bill Passes Senate

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Senate has voted in favor of a bill to empower the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable to serve as a watchdog over Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”).

The principle of net neutrality requires ISPs to act as “neutral” providers, and not interfere with how quickly or slowly internet content reaches customers. Since Obama-era FCC rules were rolled back last year, ISPs are now free to engage in preferential treatment in ways that were previously banned, as long as they make truthful disclosures about what they are doing. However, these disclosures are too technical for consumers to understand, and therefore they are not useful in holding ISPs accountable.

“The internet should be free and accessible to as many people as possible. We should not throttle internet access and stifle the innovation and communication that takes place across the web. Massachusetts residents deserve consumer protections that ensure their access to a functional and fast internet,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester).

As the Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Net Neutrality and Consumer Protection, Senator Creem led the debate on the Senate floor. “Consumers ought to be able to understand whether their Internet Service Provider manages traffic on its network fairly and protects their private information,” said Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton). “Until the Federal government is willing to be a strong regulator in this area again, the states must step forward to provide customers with meaningful information they can trust.”

“Effective internet access is essential for all of us, and we need to ensure that practices like throttling and blocking aren’t used in Massachusetts to disrupt that access and compromise the fairness we should expect from service providers,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “I was pleased to work with Senator Creem on creating the Net Neutrality Committee and developing components of this bill to protect consumers.”

The legislation requires the Department of Telecommunications and Cable to develop a user-friendly grading system that consumers can easily understand (similar to the restaurant grading system now employed by many city health departments). ISPs will be graded on how effectively they provide net neutral services and protect customer’s privacy. If an ISP voluntarily complies with best practices, as determined by the Department, they will be allowed to display the newly created “Massachusetts Net Neutrality and Consumer Privacy Seal” on their marketing materials. The bill also requires state agencies to give preference to ISPs providing net neutral service when issuing state procurement contracts and updates the municipal light plant law to make it clear that municipalities can build and run their own “last mile” internet networks.