In December, the Federal Communications Commission voted to lift rules requiring “net neutrality,” the requirement that internet providers can’t pick what sites people can visit or charge more for such services as applying for a job or watching a movie. The FCC’s new rules are scheduled to go into effect next month, although attorneys general from 23 states, including Illinois’ Lisa Madigan, are suing to overturn the FCC’s action.
On Monday, Washington became the first state to enact its own law barring internet service providers from violating net neutrality principles. In many other states, governors have issued executive orders or legislatures are considering bills to protect internet access.
In all, about 26 states have taken or are considering action, often on a bipartisan basis, according to the public interest group Common Cause.
Among the options the Illinois Legislature is considering is a bill that would require all internet service providers who do business with Illinois agencies to honor net neutrality for all customers in Illinois. The bill also would require all ISPs to disclose if they engage in blocking, paid prioritization or the slowing down of particular internet sites.
If net neutrality ends, some people might not be able to afford to go online to look for jobs. Some children might not be able to afford to do online homework. Before net neutrality rules were in place, some internet providers blocked sites if they didn’t agree with the content or had competing sites. We don’t want to return to those days.
“A free and open internet is important to promoting democratic society,” said state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, who is co-sponsoring the Illinois bill. “If we allow corporations to impose their will on internet content, that sets a dangerous precedent.”
The FCC included in its decision a measure that pre-empts states from requiring net neutrality, as Washington state has done. There is a legal argument that pre-emption is void because the FCC is essentially walking away from its authority over internet providers.
In any case, Illinois’ legislation is designed to skirt FCC pre-emption by giving internet providers a choice. They have to observe net neutrality rules only if they want to do business with state agencies, although that might have the effect of preserving net neutrality in all of Illinois because the state is such a big customer.
We need to protect the town square of voices and ideas that the internet has become. Illinois should do its part.