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Net Neutrality Bill Passes State Senate

Jul 24, 2018 06:21AM ● By Theresa Gilman

State Senator Barbara L’Italien

(Editor's Note: the following information was provided by the office of State Senator Barbara L’Italien.)

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Senate has voted in favor of a bill to empower the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable to serve as a watchdog over Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”).

The bill was crafted after legislation was filed by State Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover), senate chair of the legislature’s consumer protection committee, and State Representative Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill) in response to FEC rollbacks of Obama-era net neutrality rules. The Senate created a special committee on net neutrality to draft a bill with input from multiple senators, including L’Italien and State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton).

The principle of net neutrality requires ISPs to act as “neutral” providers, and not interfere with how quickly or slowly internet content reaches customers. Since Obama-era FCC rules were rolled back last year, ISPs are now free to engage in preferential treatment in ways that were previously banned, as long as they make truthful disclosures about what they are doing. However, these disclosures are too technical for consumers to understand, and therefore they are not useful in holding ISPs accountable.

“Massachusetts must lead as a model and send a strong signal that we care about protecting consumers and the internet, when the federal government won’t,” said L’Italien. “Recently, the dark and dangerous side of the online, surveillance-driven ad market has come to the forefront now that the risk is clear that foreign governments are trying to use this data against our country and our democracy. Allowing ISPs, which have immense access to private consumer information, to operate in this marketplace in an unregulated manner would have disastrous consequences. We cannot allow it. There are serious threats to civil liberties at stake. This is a step in the right direction in terms of oversight and consumer protection, and showing that Massachusetts acts quickly to protect the best interests of consumers and working families.”

The legislation requires the Department of Telecommunications and Cable to develop a user-friendly grading system that consumers can easily understand (similar to the restaurant grading system now employed by many city health departments). ISPs will be graded on how effectively they provide net neutral services and protect customer’s privacy. If an ISP voluntarily complies with best practices, as determined by the Department, they will be allowed to display the newly created “Massachusetts Net Neutrality and Consumer Privacy Seal” on their marketing materials. The bill also requires state agencies to give preference to ISPs providing net neutral service when issuing state procurement contracts and updates the municipal light plant law to make it clear that municipalities can build and run their own “last mile” internet networks.
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