NET NEUTRALITY ON BEACON HILL

By Bob Katzen

The Senate 37-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would require the Department of Telecommunications and Cable to develop a user-friendly grading system that will grade Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on how effectively they provide net neutral services and protect customer’s privacy. A good grade will allow an ISP to display a “Massachusetts Net Neutrality and Consumer Privacy Seal” on their marketing materials.

Other provisions require state agencies to give preference to contracting with ISPs that provide net neutral service; require ISPs to disclose to each customer its net neutrality and consumer privacy grade before entering into an agreement for service and annually thereafter; and create the ISP Registry for the purpose of making internet service quality and network management practices readily available to customers.

Net neutrality is the principle that an ISPs must treat all Internet data equally and cannot block or slow down any content or websites. The Obama Administration adopted net neutrality rules in 2015 but the Trump Administration repealed them in 2017. The Senate had considered but decided against a statewide ban on ISPs blocking access to content or slowing the speed but was concerned about running afoul of the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution that gives precedence to federal law.

“Consumers ought to be able to understand whether their ISP manages traffic on its network fairly and protects their private information,” said Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton), chair of the Senate Special Committee on Net Neutrality and Consumer Protection. “Until the Federal government is willing to be a strong regulator in this area again, the states must step forward to provide customers with meaningful information they can trust.”

Although no one voted against the bill, there was criticism from outside the chamber.

“Our members support and adhere to the principles of net neutrality every day while employing thousands of Massachusetts residents and investing over a billion dollars annually in the commonwealth’s economy,” said Tim Wilkerson, Vice President and General Counsel of the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association. “The measure that passed today will do little to protect consumers while hurting innovation and economic growth. The best solution is a bipartisan, federal net neutrality law that protects consumers and encourages investment here in Massachusetts and across New England.”

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