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2/1/2018 Regunberg bill would counter federal net neutrality move for all state-funded internet service
STATE HOUSE – Rep. Aaron Regunberg, flanked by advocacy and community groups, today announced legislation he is introducing to allow Rhode Island to preserve net neutrality as much as possible following the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the open-internet regulation in December.

The legislation would require that all Internet access purchased or funded by the state is “provided in an unbiased manner, consistent with net neutrality principles.”

The legislation focuses on state purchasing because FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s order also blocked states and municipalities from declaring net neutrality within their own borders. But state purchases for internet service are significant, and such a law would force internet service providers (ISPs­) to maintain neutrality if they wish to be eligible for government contracts.

“This is an economic development and consumer protection bill. The internet drives our economy. It’s how we learn. It’s how we search for jobs. It’s how entrepreneurs innovate. For all we know, right now, in a basement somewhere in Rhode Island, a young person could be working on the start-up that could become the next Facebook or Google. But none of that can happen without a free and open internet,” said Representative Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence).

The legislation (2018-H 7422) would apply when the state is the purchaser of internet access services, whether for state agencies or for entities to which it provides funding for internet services, such as libraries or any public wi-fi. It would also apply to any agency or organization whose Internet services are provided by state funding, such as grants.

The bill is a national model developed by the American Civil Liberties Union. If it is adopted by many states, it would create a vast block of purchasing power that could compel neutrality from ISPs through public contracts.

At an event announcing the legislation today, he was joined by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, Tiverton), who has introduced legislation with a similar goal in the Senate (2018-S 2008). [Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 37, Hopkinton, Westerly) has introduced companion legislation (2018-H 7076) to Senator DiPalma’s in House.]

“While the FCC decision specifically aims to prevent states from defending against this loss of freedom, setting our own standards for state purchasing is a way that Rhode Island can strike back against the loss of net neutrality. States have a lot of buying power, and we can use that power to influence internet access providers to adopt net neutrality principles in order to secure state and local business,” said Senator DiPalma.

Also participating were a broad range of advocates who have formed a coalition in support of preserving net neutrality and the legislation. Members of the coalition include the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Library Association, College Democrats of Rhode Island, Demand Progress Action, High School Democrats of Rhode Island, Millennial Rhode Island, Our Revolution Rhode Island, Providence Student Union, University of Rhode Island Democrats, Young Democrats of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Working Families Party and Brown Progressive Action Committee.

December’s FCC decision overturned 2015 net neutrality regulations that prevented ISPs from making distinctions about how broadband can be used. The decision effectively allows them to charge more for certain content, block content and limit customers to slower internet speed.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923