ISPs Face Mass. Assault Over Net Neutrality

WASHINGTON — The New England Cable & Telecommunications Association has taken aim at internet service providers in a legislative broadside that other states could look to as a model for bundling new net neutrality rules and restrictions in one package.

A Massachusetts special Senate committee held a hearing on that legislative proposal where ISPs tried to push back. The bill stemmed from a report out of that committee, one that NECTA branded as hostile and unfair to ISPs.

The bill, actually a collection of bills, has some bipartisan support, including special committee chair Cynthia Stone Wilkerson, a Democrat, and vice chair Bruce Tarr, a Republican.

The bill throws the proverbial kitchen sink at ISPs, from new net neutrality and ISP privacy rules to contract language to creating a registry of good ISP actors, with oversight that includes spot checks, subpoena powers and hefty fines.

Sweeping the Nation

Massachusetts is just one of almost a dozen states that are either contemplating or have passed legislation reinstating network neutrality rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization that the Federal Communications Commission eliminated in its Dec. 14 vote to approve the Restoring Internet Freedom Order.

The state created a special committee on Net Neutrality and Consumer Protection in the wake of the FCC’s rules rollback last December.

In addition to reinstating those FCC rules and applying net neutrality rules to interconnections (which the FCC also eliminated), the Massachusetts bill would create a state Internet Service Provider Registry to monitor ISP network management practices and come up with minimum standards for a Massachusetts Network Neutrality Seal, which may be displayed by a provider that is in compliance. The registry would also come up with a scoring system to rate ISPs on their net neutrality and transparency practices, which must be displayed at the point of sale.

Violators of any of the bill’s requirements can be fined up to $1,000 per day per infraction.

ISPs would be required to make the same enhanced disclosures to the state that they do to the FCC under the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, and the state’s Department of Telecommunications and Cable would have the right to examine ISP records and facilities, subpoena information, and compel document production and testimony.

The bill also has net neutrality language governing any government contracts and excluding binding arbitration options for disputes.

Tim Wilkerson, vice president and general counsel of NECTA, said following the hearing that its member companies already adhere to net neutrality principles, protect consumer privacy and have the Federal Trade Commission and existing state and federal authority to oversee that, an oversight he suggested was lacking for other parts of the internet. He said the hearing “exhibited unnecessary hostility to one segment of the internet ecosystem, internet service providers, who have a strong track record of providing best-in-class services, partnering with Massachusetts state government and making a significant contribution to the Massachusetts innovation economy,” he said in a statement.

NECTA, like national trade group NCTA: The Internet & Television Association, is pushing for uniform federal legislation that “levels the playing field” for ISPs.

Wilkerson, who also testified, said his members support net neutrality and privacy principles and agreed with Keegan that state-by-state, potentially contrasting laws are unworkable and address a problem that doesn’t exist. He continued the ISP drumbeat on the evils of edge providers, saying that it was those tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, making the headlines for being bad actors and not holding up their commitments to privacy and, “perhaps,” net neutrality.

Pushing in another direction is the American Civil Liberties Union. Rather than legislating net neutrality on ISPs, it is encouraging towns and cities to do it themselves by being their own ISPs.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.