A Hawaii state lawmaker has announced he will introduce a bill encouraging publicly-owned local broadband networks days after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal Obama-era regulations protecting net neutrality.
State Rep. Kaniela Saito Ing (D-South Maui), who is running for US Congress, said on Monday he is drafting legislation that will “declare that the Internet should be equal and open to all” and urge Congress to “reverse the FCC’s ruling against net neutrality.” To counter the FCC move, Ing’s bill would “set up a task force to explore the best practices and feasibility of community-owned broadband in Hawaii.”
“We cannot wait on action from a GOP congress who will continue to put their billionaire donors above the interests of the people they are supposed to represent,” he added.
Under the Open Internet Order signed by former president Barack Obama in February 2015, Internet service providers (ISPs) were required to treat all data equally, without blocking or “throttling,” websites, or favoring others. Net neutrality advocates warn that without regulation, the handful of giant corporations providing Internet service will introduce paid prioritization, creating Internet “fast lanes” for those who can afford to pay while marginalizing the content of those who cannot.
Open Internet proponents say net neutrality repeal threatens free expression, entrepreneurship, consumer choice, education, scientific research and even the ability of citizens to effectively protest in an increasingly digital age.
“The FCC’s ruling to end net neutrality is about more than just slower Netflix and a pricier Facebook,” Ing warned. “It’s a threat to free-speech in our modern world. When monopolistic corporations control the Internet, they control our ability to organize resistance.”
Net neutrality opponents believe regulation stymies competition and innovation and hinders ISPs from capitalizing on their broadband investments and reinvesting their profits into better service for their customers.
“When I meet with consumers… what they tell me is that the concern is not that their Internet service provider is blocking lawful traffic or doing something like that,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told PBS News Hour earlier this year. “It’s that they want more competition. They want better, faster and cheaper Internet.”
Last Thursday, the FCC voted 3-2 along partisan lines to repeal the Open Internet Order. “It is time for us to restore Internet freedom,” declared Pai, a former Verizon attorney appointed to head the FCC by President Donald Trump in January. “We are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the Internet for most of its existence.”
Pai drew widespread condemnation — and a possible lawsuit — after he created and posted a video mocking net neutrality supporters. Titled “7 things you can still do on the Internet after net neutrality,” Pai assures “you can still ‘gram your food” and “post photos of cute animals.”
Later in the video Pai is seen wielding a Star Wars light saber, prompting The Last Jedi and original Star Wars star Mark Hamill to tweet that the FCC chair is “profoundly unworthy 2 wield a lightsaber” because “a Jedi acts selflessly for the common man-NOT lie 2 enrich giant corporations. Btw-did you pay John Williams his royalty?… #AJediYouAreNOT.”
Legal challenges mean net neutrality isn’t quite dead yet. The prospect of a newly progressive Congress after next year’s midterm elections also gives open Internet supporters hope.
However, Ing says Republican control of Congress means state and even local officials must take action to protect net neutrality. “Democrats currently do not have the votes in the current GOP Congress to reverse yet another backward policy by the Trump Administration,” he told Maui Now. “This means states like Hawaii must act now.”
Ing points to cities including Chattanooga, Tennessee — the first US city to offer a public, citywide gigabit-per-second fiber Internet network — and scores of other municipalities across the nation launching government-owned, fiber-based Internet services as innovators offering viable solutions to consumers. He firmly believes that “community-owned and operated Internet is the only way to ensure net neutrality for years to come.”
“It’s the future,” he insisted.