Now, rules are back to the way theywere before 2016 when internet service providers were allowed to charge extra to speed up some websites to give them a market advantage in a practice known as “paid prioritization.”
The FCCargues that the old net neutrality rules stifle competition and without them, internet service providers (ISPs) will better innovate internet technologies. Critics, however, point out that there already is, by design,very little ISP competition.Only so many public right of ways (such as utility poles and underground cables) can be feasibly constructed, thus creating natural internet monopolies.
Lawmakers and consumer protection advocatesin NJ are making the case that “paid prioritization” is bad for businesses and democracy,so theydevised a plan to use states’ rights to enforce net neutrality principles.
31st District Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, who represents Bayonne and parts of Jersey City,introduced three bills in March that would prohibit ISPs, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast,from installing internet infrastructure, in the form of utility poles and cable boxes, unless the companies do not engage in paid prioritization and are transparent about their network management practices. The legislation also calls for noncompliant ISPs to be denied public contracts.
“The potential long-term consequences to businesses and consumers is very real in my mind,” said Chiaravalloti. Without equal access to the internet, argues Chiaravalloti, small businesses and startups could be disadvantaged for the benefit of established companies that can afford to pay to be prioritized.
“It’s one of those issues that if you don’t react immediately,” Chiaravalloti said, “we’ll wake up 10 years from now, and the internet will be extremely expensive and very unfair.”
Within a month of being elected, Gov. Phil Murphy joined a lawsuit with 21 other states against the FCC and signed an executive order that attempts to achieve the same outcome of requiring ISPs to obey net neutrality principles. Many legal observers are skeptical that such a lawsuit will force the FCC’s hand.
Chiaravalloti’s legislation would leverage local control over public right of ways to enforce net neutrality principles, effectively putting power into the hands of localities and states.
Chiaravalloti is not the first state legislator to propose rules in an attempt to enforce net neutrality. Massachusetts, California, New York, Rhode Island, Nebraska, and Washington have proposed measures to force the ISPs’ hands. But whether the states’ strategies will work is up for debate among legal scholars.
In repealing the rule, the FCC reclassified the internet as an “internet service,” which could limit the federal government’s ability to oversee and regulate it. The order from the FCC includes a provision that could also limit states’ ability to enforce the rules.
“We conclude that we should exercise our authority to preempt anystate or local requirements that are inconsistent with the federal deregulatory approach we adopttoday,” reads the order. In the past, court cases that pre-empt state laws have mixed outcomes, so whether state proposals will pass muster in court is up for debate.
“This is what happens with a changing marketplace,” said Chiaravalloti.“The internet is currently regulated through a 100-year-old law designed at the federal level to deal with telephone companies. That’s an issue at a federal level they really need to address.”
“The problem is that if net neutrality is repealed and erodes, it prevents us as a library from giving folks the best information that’s out there. – J.P. Porcaro
Libraries are one of the local institutions challenging net neutrality repeal, partly because the mission of libraries is aligned with principles of equal access to information.
“Now that the internet has become the primary mechanism for delivering information, services and applications to the general public, it is especially important that commercial ISPs are not able to control or manipulate the content of these communications,” wrote American Library Association President Jim Neal in a press release in November.
As it happens, Bayonne’s new library director, J.P. Porcaro, is a voting member of the American Library Association (ALA), which represents 56,000 libraries nationwide, including all Hudson County libraries. He sees libraries as stewards of “free speech and free thought.”
“When that gets impeded, that’s problematic,” Porcaro said. “The problem is that if net neutrality is repealed and erodes, it prevents us as a library from giving folks the best information that’s out there. And as we need more bandwidth, these things will slowly get worse. It’s that slow erosion that I’m worried about.”
The Jersey City Public Library, like the Bayonne Public Library, is part of the ALA. It serves many residents without internet and has a public contract with Verizon. The Jersey City library’s network administrator, Victor Enriquez, said that he has yet to notice a change in its bandwidth of about 500 megabytes per second.
“If YouTube gets slower, I would definitely hear complaints about it,”Enriquez said. “Right now, you’re tied to whatever ISP you’re signed into. Ours is Verizon so if they enforce it, we really have no choice.”
“Next time, the ISP contract might need to put in a [net neutrality] provision,” said Enriquez of the library’s Verizon contract, which is due to expire this year.
A shift of power
“What really bugs me about the net neutrality stuff is that it is giving power to folks who already have power,” Porcaro said.“It’s a shift in the wrong direction.”
Both Porcaro and Chiaravalloti worry that the concept of net neutrality is so esotericthat gaining popular support for it will be a challenge.
“This is something we have to watch,” Chiaravalloti said. “I think technology is the future, it’s going to continue to be a game changer in industries in ways we can’t even fathom right now. We have to make sure it’s fair right now.”
Because the internet is so decentralized, it is difficult for many people to feel a sense of local power over the rules.
Said Porcaro, “It’s not seen as a local issue, but just because it affects everywhere doesn’t make it not a local issue.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.