The Save the Internet Act, a net neutrality bill co-sponsored by North Coast U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman passed out of the House and is headed for the Senate for consideration.
The bill, HR 1644, is an effort to restore protections for net neutrality that were implemented in 2015 and then rescinded by the Trump administration in 2017.
Ensuring protections for consumer privacy rules preventing telecom corporations from slowing down or controlling what information is available over their networks is the impetus behind the bill and the impact locally will be felt by private citizens, business owners and local governments.
For residents of Humboldt County and the North Coast where internet service is limited and back-up broadband connections are still not completed, rules preventing telecoms from limiting access to the internet are crucial, according to one local proponent.
“We are at the thin edge of internet access and we often have no choice in provider,” said Sean McLaughlin, executive director at Access Humboldt. “The notion that you may want another provider doesn’t work in rural areas where you don’t have any choice and an open internet becomes much more important.”
McLaughlin went on to point out that the need for consumer protections, and not just protections for privacy, but protections for access, are the key to a free and open resource that was created and developed with public funds.
If net neutrality is diluted or repealed, telecoms will have the power to restrict what you can read and watch online and would allow them to focus on content that makes them money rather than what the consumer wants to see, he said.
“The thing about net neutrality is that without it, the network owner will monetize content by making some content faster or (more) accessible and have you pay extra for other content,” he said. “We already see this with local satellite TV subscribers who can’t watch two local TV stations. If you apply that model to the internet that’s what it will look like; some stations won’t be available. Maybe you’ll have to pay extra to watch a Board of Supervisors meeting. That’s why we like to talk about it in general terms. The internet has become the backbone of our phone and communications system and in rural areas like Humboldt County people don’t have a choice in provider and it’s like wiping out mom-and-pop stores for corporate franchises.”
According to both McLaughlin and U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, the feedback from citizens across the country is overwhelmingly in favor of net neutrality. The internet was developed and built with public funds and in 2015 it was classified as a public utility, a designation since removed by the Trump Administration.
“I think that is an essential part of the conversation and something most people don’t know or appreciate,” Huffman said on Friday. “The public developed this resource and it should come as no surprise that huge corporations are trying ways to monetize and restrict access. It’s our job to say, ‘Enough,’ and to say, ‘No.’”
Huffman said he is hopeful that the resolution will make it through the Senate because it’s one of the few national issues that has wide-ranging bi-partisan support.
“In the big picture, it’s a critical crossroad in what the internet looks like,” Huffman added. “Will it remain the open resource for everyone to use or will a few powerful players limit access, throttle and control ways that are expensive and discriminatory? The Senate passed a bi-partisan bill to protect net neutrality and the representatives I have spoken with say, without exception, this is a winning issue.”
Among the provisions of the House resolution are calls for strengthening transparency protections; enacting specific rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization; and empowering the FCC to investigate consumer and business complaints and fine internet service providers for violations of the Communications Act.
Huffman said net neutrality is critical locally.
“On the North Coast of California, I’ve seen firsthand how our rural communities, who already have limited access to reliable broadband, depend on net neutrality,” Huffman said. “A free and open internet is essential for telehealth, education, and economic growth, and I’m glad the House voted to support net neutrality.”
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.