Trying to protect an open internet state by state, rather than by federal law, is a daunting and unwieldy goal.
Unfortunately, it’s also entirely necessary, given that the Trump administration and Congress are more than happy to let internet providers restrict what we — the American people — can see and access online.
Just on Sunday, the U.S, Justice Department sued to stop California from requiring “net neutrality,” the concept of protecting full and equal access to the internet. It’s a sad day — and a threat to our democracy — when the federal government goes to bat for those who would squelch the free flow of information.
Why is this a big worry? President Donald Trump and his administration have been all about attacking independent news sources and trying to reshape the media into a lapdog that supports all the president’s policies. As much as the internet has been abused by bogus web and social media sites, an independent internet is an important part of maintaining an informed citizenry.
Getting rid of net neutrality also means you might pay more for such things as streaming movies from particular sites. You might also suddenly find you can’t go into competition with an established web-based company with your own web-based start-up because you don’t have the deep pockets to pay for fast internet speeds.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission pulled back Obama-era rules to protect internet access. Several states, including Washington, Oregon and Vermont, have enacted some protections in response. But a bill California Gov. Jerry Brown signed on Sunday gives that state the nation’s toughest laws protecting internet freedom.
Average Americans have come to assume that the internet is a level playing field where they can go wherever they want. But the big internet service providers see an opportunity to make huge profits by speeding up connection speeds for companies willing to pay a premium while slowing down speeds for those who don’t pay.
That would put corporate entities in the position of deciding who gets information at what speed. Many valued voices on the internet could be throttled out of existence.
In Illinois, state Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, told us she plans to reintroduce legislation to protect net neutrality in Illinois, although with a narrower scope than California law. Her bill, which didn’t go far in the last legislative session, would require that any internet service provider that does business with state agencies ranging from the Capitol to public universities would have to adhere to net neutrality standards. The bill also would require internet service providers to disclose to all Illinois customers whether they are providing a free and open internet.
Those are more than reasonable measures, but Williams says they have met with “wild opposition” from internet service providers.
Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and 22 other state attorneys general earlier this year filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn to FCC decision. Arguments in the lawsuit have been scheduled for February.
At the time of the filing, Madigan said the repeal of net neutrality would allow internet service providers to block or slow access to some content and charge consumers to access certain sites.
Telecommunication companies say they dread the thought of having to contend with a patchwork of internet access laws from state to state. No doubt. But the solution is not the wholesale dispensing with net neutrality. Rather, the companies should be leading the charge for a free and open internet.
Net neutrality is one of many issues in which states suddenly find themselves having to take an activist stance on national policies so as to protect their residents. States also are stepping up on immigration, LGBTQ and environmental issues. They have been forced to do so by an administration and Congress that are failing to meet the needs and heed the wishes of average Americans.
But don’t take our word on that. Get online, do a little research and decide for yourself.
While you can.
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