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Colorado must fight to protect net neutrality

Colorado must fight to protect net neutrality
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The Trump administration’s misguided decision to end net neutrality has led to public outcry and uncertainty in Colorado. Net neutrality is an essential tool for Colorado’s economy, small businesses and everyone who uses the internet.

Late last year, the Federal Communications Commission voted to reverse the Open Internet Order, overturning the existing policy of net neutrality that ensures a free and open internet. This change could allow telecommunications companies and internet service providers to slow internet traffic, charge higher fees for faster service, and potentially block lawful content. These measures would disproportionately hurt individuals and small businesses and favor big businesses and corporations that can afford to pay for better access and internet speeds.

Not that you would know any of this from reading the opinion essay published in The Hill Monday.

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The problem with this piece is not just that the authors oppose a bill that would enable Colorado consumers to get the net neutral service that they want (and currently have). Everyone is entitled to disagree.

 

Rather, the problem is that the authors seem to have failed to read our bill.

They spend their time talking at length about the federal reclassification of telecommunications services, which is mentioned in no part of the bill. 

They also stress that our bill is an example of more government regulation, when the bill specifically authorizes the State of Colorado to operate as a market participant and not a regulator.

The authors of the op-ed likely know both of these things but feel that obfuscation, coupled with a dose of free-market ideology, is more effective than actually engaging on an issue where 83 percent of Americans are against them. If they can explain the public (as opposed to corporate) benefits of allowing non-net-neutral services, I — and those 83 percent of Americans — am all ears.

So, what are we actually talking about here, and what does our bill do to fix the problem?

State Rep. Leslie Herod and I introduced H.B. 18-1312 to do two things to stop this potential erosion of our open society. First, we put in a net-neutral service preference when state taxpayer dollars are being spent on internet services. Second, the bill requires any company providing internet services using state support (e.g., rural broadband support programs) to commit to net neutrality. Companies are free to provide services in other ways to other customers. That’s the essence of the state being a market participant, and not a regulator. 

On Tuesday, H.B. 1312 passed the Colorado House of Representatives on a party-line vote. The Colorado-focused bill helps to ensure that when taxpayer funds are used, our citizens get what they want from their internet service. Yet all of the House Republicans opposed the bill. Much like the authors of this op-ed, opponents of this bill have avoided engaging on its merits and instead decry “more regulation.” 

The Trump administration is very much against states doing anything on this issue. However, we believe Colorado should join states like Washington and Montana in doing what we can to protect our residents from policies that can have no benefit to them, and could do great harm. That is our duty as state legislators. 

It is not hard to imagine where the removal of net neutrality will lead. Paid fast lanes for preferred content could allow bigger, more established businesses to squeeze out smaller competitors. For our free market to operate, consumers must be able to exercise free choice  —  not have those choices tilted, or made for them, by special interests.

Moreover, hardworking Colorado families could be in a situation where their internet bills could increase to access some types of content. Rural and underserved communities, which often have no choice at all as to their providers, could be particularly vulnerable.

If Colorado can set the standard for a more open internet, we will continue to be an attractive place for innovative companies. It is hard to imagine our vibrant start-up community continuing to thrive if Colorado does not address this issue. 

Just as important as the economic consequences, a free and open internet is crucial to the free exchange of ideas in our society. Any attempt to block or restrict access to certain ideas should be opposed with everything that we have.

Our society is already suffering badly from the manipulation and denial of facts. The last thing we need is to allow special interests to close down ideas they don’t like. 

For all these reasons, net neutrality is crucial. We would love to see Congress act, and call on U.S. Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Democrats must end mob rule GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' MORE to join 50 of his Senate colleagues in moving forward on a change to the FCC decision. But in the absence of leadership in D.C., it is time for the states to act.

Chris Hansen is a state representative from Denver.