I’m looking for input on the issue of net neutrality. The Senate has formed a special committee on the issue and we may develop an approach to taking action on it. I generally favor net neutrality, but here are a few starting thoughts pointing to the complexity of the issue.
Net neutrality as to content is fundamental. As a free speech advocate, I’m absolutely committed to the principle that the internet should be open to all content providers and that there should be no discrimination based on content. The only exception to that idea should be lawful restrictions that the government might enact to protect public safety, consistent with established first amendment law.
Net neutrality as to file size and download speed is a different issue. This may be a corporate issue more than a people issue. Some corporate media providers are offering huge file downloads of television programs over the internet. If a particular corporate media entity offers huge, rapid file downloads that exceed the capacity of internet providers and so take bandwidth from other users, it might be reasonable to make that corporate media entity contribute more financially.
In practice, it may be impossible to separate content neutrality from size/speed neutrality, so I instinctively favor a clean and simple net neutrality principle, but I recognize that is a complex issue.
One thing is clear: It is a federal issue, not a state issue. Most internet traffic crosses state lines. State action will be largely pre-empted by federal regulation. As a work around to the pre-emption issue, I’ve recently received suggestions along the following lines:
As a constituent, I urge you to create the policy for our state government of contracting for internet services exclusively with companies that respect net neutrality. In addition, I encourage you to make our state government a much bigger internet provider by providing free, public internet service, including Wi-Fi in public places, and service to homes and businesses — and, again, working only with companies that follow net neutrality.
I’m reluctant to adopt these approaches. As to the first idea — creating a state policy of contracting with net neutral companies, I think it is probably legal, but I’m really not sure how it would work. We don’t buy all that much in the way of internet services compared to all the other private entities in the state. We wouldn’t move the market much. My other concern is that that we’d have to have a fight about whether various companies were net neutral and that might be less than obvious.
As to the second idea, I’m open to a state role for internet service provision, but we should focus on areas that are underserved today, especially rural areas. We have made a lot of progress on that over the last few years.
I’d very much welcome additional suggestions on how the state can help on this issue.
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