Insights

Have it “Your” Way: Net Neutrality, State Lawmakers, and the Future of Internet Legislation

Later this month, on April 23, 2018, “Net Neutrality” will be officially repealed. All kinds of headlines have appeared online in the aftermath of the FCC’s announcement of this recent decision, which was authorized by a 3-2 vote. These headlines included angry laments, including how the Net Neutrality repeal will “Ruin the Internet Forever,” and that it “Could Kill Internet Innovation at Every Level.”

Defenders of the repeal are, of course, not so worried, claiming that the Internet was fine without Net Neutrality, before the FCC instituted the regulations in the Obama era, and that the repeal will open up the free market even more, allowing for greater competition and better options for customers.

Like a lot of political issues, Net Neutrality can be a polarizing topic—it tends to be split along partisan lines (with some exceptions). But part of this division may have more to do with a lack of understanding how the Internet works, as well as a market economy, and perhaps due to political tribalism. There are many important discussions that ought to be had over Net Neutrality, whether dealing with the importance of Americans’ access to the Internet or with the rights of companies to offer certain services. That’s why imprecision can be so detrimental in these arguments.

Earlier this year, Burger King made a bit of a splash in this political debate soon after the Net Neutrality repeal was publicized. The company posted a Youtube video entitled, “Whopper Neutrality,” in which customers were unexpectedly forced to wait longer for their food unless they paid a significant amount of money to expedite their orders. Understandably, customers were unhappy, and this whole social experiment was an attempt to prove that Net Neutrality was just like “Whopper Neutrality.”

Burgers can usually be purchased inexpensively and are very limited in their use. The Internet, however, is generally pricier to access and extraordinarily vast. Policy-wise, it would make much more sense for political discussions to be made concerning the accessibility of the Internet, especially for those who live in areas that have a limited amount of ISP’s, and about the potential dangers of ISP monopolies. And indeed, those conversations are happening, including among lawmakers.

While the FCC’s repeal of Net Neutrality will soon become certified, there are some states that could retain similar, if not identical, policies to the nationalized form of Net Neutrality—that is, if their bills become legalized in their respective states. Some New Jersey lawmakers have sponsored S1577, which, if passed, would become the “New Jersey Net Neutrality Act.” Multiple state legislators in West Virginia, all Democrats, have propagated a similar bill in their own state.

Is it possible that some of these bills will become laws, thus enforcing a form of Net Neutrality within individual states? Absolutely—in fact, it’s already happened in the state of Washington. HB2282, designed to protect an “Open Internet,” was the first bill to become a law among any U.S. state regarding state-sanctioned Net Neutrality. While Democrats drastically outnumbered Republicans in terms of sponsors of the bill, there were a few Republicans.

The Internet is undoubtedly a precious commodity to nearly all Americans. No one wants to pay more to shop online, use their social media accounts, or watch movies on their favorite streaming services. The question, then, should be, “Which policies would make the Internet more accessible and affordable?” As of right now, it appears that both defenders and opponents of Net Neutrality think each has the ideal policy solution. Once April 23rd hits, time will tell regarding which side’s predictions will become true, especially as each state might take up its own policies through legislation.

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