The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s December decision to repeal network neutrality protections threatens access to the internet as we know it. Without net neutrality, internet service providers could block, slow down, or charge more based on the content that someone is trying to see or who is trying to see it. States have a role to play in standing up against this threat. This week, Washington became the first state to pass a law to protect net neutrality.
Connecticut can and should be next.
This week, the ACLU-CT testified in support of two bills—S.B. 2 and H.B. 5260—which could each help to protect net neutrality in different ways. S.B. 2 would require internet service providers to follow net neutrality rules in Connecticut. H.B. 5260, a narrower bill, would require internet service providers that contract with the state to adopt policies that honor net neutrality regulations.
Despite its name, net neutrality isn’t just a tech issue. It’s about the principle that internet service providers shouldn’t get to decide what information we see. Here are some of the reasons why net neutrality matters for people in Connecticut and nationwide:
Democracy –The free flow of information and the ability to communicate freely are key to America’s democracy. In today’s world, people use the internet to learn about and debate policies and political ideas, organize themselves around issues, evaluate candidates for office, and even look up their polling locations to vote. Equal access to that information gives people a fairer chance to participate in our democracy, but without net neutrality, internet service providers could slow down, charge more for, or even block information with which they disagree.
Social justice advocacy – Movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #NoMuslimBan, #DreamActNow, and more have used the internet, particularly social media, to organize and amplify their causes into national conversations. Communities like #GirlsLikeUs and #ItGetsBetter rely on social media to increase visibility and support for trans women and LGBTQ youth. Advocates for a wide range of causes have warned that the absence of net neutrality could stifle movements by allowing internet service providers to charge more for access to social media, petition websites, or other organizing tools—or by allowing internet providers to block, slow down, or charge more for content with which those providers disagree.
Education & Youth – An open internet can be crucial for learning in and outside of the classroom. Educators often use apps and websites to help students engage with concepts, students use the internet for research, and online and homeschooled students can depend on the internet for connections to classmates and information. Students need access to websites for research, study guides, tutoring programs, and more. Without net neutrality, internet companies could charge more for faster internet packages, which could widen the already unfair learning advantages that wealthier school districts and students have over poor districts and families. Recently, students have also used the internet to amplify their voices. Without net neutrality, internet companies could create add-on fees for access to social media platforms that students have used to make their voices heard in political debates.
Healthcare – More and more, people are using the internet to find healthcare providers, book appointments, research treatment plans, and connect with support groups for health issues. Doctors often use electronic health records, apps, and emails to maintain contact with their patients. And people who aren’t able to travel to a doctor’s office or hospital increasingly use online video chats and telehealth for medical appointments. But without net neutrality, internet service providers could charge more for access to medical websites or apps or for storing medical information, creating even more unequal access to advances in healthcare. As the American Academy of Family Physicians wrote in a letter to the FCC: "The internet forms the backbone on which the healthcare industry is building capabilities for health information exchange. Lack of health information exchange is literally life-threatening. It is paramount for the health and well-being of U.S. citizens that no barriers be placed hindering the free and open appropriate exchange of health information."
Business – Connecticut business owners have spoken out about the importance of net neutrality, and for good reason: they could be at a severe disadvantage without it. With net neutrality, people can shop on a small local company’s website as quickly as they can shop on a big site like Amazon’s. Without net neutrality, internet service providers could charge companies more for faster website or checkout loading times, making it harder for local business or startups to compete.
We don’t have to guess about what the absence of net neutrality could mean. In 2005, Canadian Telecom company Telus blocked a union website because it was in a labor dispute with the union. In 2007, Verizon blocked text messages from NARAL, a reproductive rights advocacy organization, because they determined the texts were “controversial.” In 2012, AT&T limited people’s internet in an attempt to make customers purchase a more expensive data plan—a move that forced the company into a legal settlement with the FCC. Internet service providers have also blocked mobile wallet apps to stall competitors.
More than half the states in this country are making attempts to preserve net neutrality. Including Washington, which passed net neutrality protections into law, 26 state legislatures have introduced bills to protect net neutrality, and 5 governors have enacted executive orders to protect net neutrality. Connecticut has joined the chorus of state legislatures by introducing S.B. 2 and H.B. 5260, and now it needs to pass net neutrality protections into law.
Passing net neutrality protections would send a message to the FCC and the country that Connecticut cares about open access to information, and the ACLU of Connecticut will be pushing for legislators to take action.