State lawmakers’ efforts to combat the Trump administration’s repeal of net neutrality have hit a roadblock, but Democratic lawmakers in Connecticut still want to see the federal policy restored.
A Connecticut General Assembly bill that would have established net neutrality in the state came to a halt in committee on March 29. The bill, proposed by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, was a response to the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality, which is set to take effect on April 23. With the repeal fast approaching, Democratic lawmakers are still pushing to restore policy in the state and are grappling with what a repeal could mean for Connecticut.
“We shouldn’t have to wait to see if this impacts us in a negative way,” Duff said in an interview with the News. “We should be able to control our own destiny.”
In 2015, under the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, the Federal Communications Commission introduced a set of net neutrality rules that reinforced the understanding of internet as a public utility. The rules prohibited internet providers like Verizon and AT&T from “throttling,” “fast-laning,” or blocking the delivery of content. Net neutrality was meant to prevent the commercialization of access to information on the internet, but, under Chairman Ajit Pai, the commission voted in December 2017 to repeal these rules in the name of “restoring internet freedom.”
Duff proposed the bill in the Energy and Technology Committee in an effort to prevent what he saw as potential dangers of the repeal and since net neutrality is important for the state’s economy. According to Duff, Austin McChord, CEO of the Norwalk-based tech company Datto, told him that net neutrality is crucial if Connecticut wants to stay innovative and cutting-edge. The bill also garnered support from small businesses and consumers throughout the state, Duff said.
But Republicans on the committee opposed the bill, arguing that net neutrality rules should be left to the federal government.
“It was something that we think is a federal issue and we think should be handled at the federal level,” said state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, according to a March 29 story in the Connecticut Post. “We didn’t want to subject our state to any lawsuits which we knew would be coming.”
In order to stop the bill from advancing to a full committee vote, Formica, co-chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee, split the committee using what Formica called a “parliamentary trick,” which restricted the vote to the committee’s two Democratic and two Republican senators, creating a tie. The bill needed a majority vote in order to advance past committee, which it likely would have if the entire committee had voted.
In the Yale–New Haven community, the impending change has been a cause of concern.
Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 is focused on the possible “politicization” of the repeal and its potential to disenfranchise Connecticut voters.
For Georgia Travers LAW ’21, a student fellow in the Law School’s Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic, a world in which the internet is “a pay-to-play service is antithetical to the way the internet has evolved.”
“I think this is the next few weeks or maybe the next month or two are definitely crucial from a state perspective as far as standing up to the federal government,” Travers said.
The Federal Communications Commission was created in 1934.
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