SALT LAKE CITY — On the heels of a Federal Communications Commission action last December that walked back Obama-era rules to maintain net neutrality, states across the country are working on legislation to backfill the void and reinstate some rules for internet service providers.
Utah is the latest to join that effort, with an announcement Thursday by Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, that he's opened a bill file that will aim to create some new, state-level guidelines.
And, there appears to be a bipartisan energy afoot, with Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, noting he is also exploring potential legislation aimed at net neutrality.
King told the Deseret News his proposal will be limited to requiring that any internet service provider that is contracting with the state, or one of its subdivisions, adhere to the basic tenets of net neutrality, including prohibiting ISPs from "blocking, disparately pricing, or otherwise interfering with internet traffic and content."
"We're not looking to dictate what ISPs do, but when it comes to state contracts, we don't want a thumb on the scale," King said. "We want (state web content) to be accessible to everyone who needs it, in a way that does not put us at a disadvantage with other websites."
According to data assembled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, 29 other states have already introduced some 65 pieces of legislation, following the implementation of the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedomorder that took effect on June 11.
The efforts vary widely and include a California proposal that would, according to some analysts, be more expansive than the guidelines the FCC abolished, to legislation that simply requires ISPs to explicitly outline exactly how they're managing bandwidth. New York and New Jersey are exploring how to leverage, via legislative proposals, local jurisdiction over power poles and underground cabling corridors to require net neutrality adherence for any provider who needs access to public infrastructure for building out their networks.
While King's proposal falls much closer to the low impact part of the spectrum, when viewed nationally, Cutler said he's still researching what tack, if any, he would take on his net neutrality legislation.
Pete Ashdown, founder and CEO of Utah independent ISP Xmission, said he's happy to see the Utah Legislature acknowledging the need for internet rule-making and believes King is on the right path.
"I trust Brian," Ashdown said. "He's been around long enough … to know how to get legislation considered."
While supporting the effort, Ashdown said he expects some legislators will simply see King's effort as "government overreach" without recognizing the heart of the issue.
"I think there's a role, a necessary role, for regulation in industries that lack competition," Ashdown said. "Internet service provision in many areas functions like a monopoly. … Most customers have no choice of providers."
Timothy Karr, communications director for Free Press, a national group that advocates for equity and fairness in technology access, media ownership and news reporting, lauded Utah's entrance into the group of states working on net neutrality issues.1 comment on this story
"We are encouraged by the incredible energy from local leaders in states and cities who are stepping up to write their own rules for protecting the open internet," Karr said. "Utah joined dozens of other states where lawmakers have crafted legislation.
"In addition, more than 125 mayors from cities large and small have signed a pledge not to do business with internet service providers who violate net neutrality. It makes perfect sense that local leaders would step in when the federal government has failed to provide these important protections."