The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may have voted to repeal net neutrality, but the fight for a fair and open internet is far from over. Joining that fight is a Hawaii state lawmaker, who says he plans to introduce a bill to establish public broadband networks.
Hawaii state representative Kaniela Ing first mentioned drafting the bill in a post on Twitter not long after the FCC voted to end net neutrality rules. Then, on December 19, he shared his vision for the future of the internet in a statement posted on his website.
“States like Hawaii must act now to save the equal-and-open internet,” wrote Ing. “One option is to reject corporate internet services providers all together, and control our internet ourselves.”
Three words for the FCC: publicly-owned internet. I'm drafting a bill literally right now for the Hawaii State Legislature to consider next month. They didn't see this one coming. #NetNeutrality
— Kaniela Ing (@KanielaIng) December 15, 2017
In the statement, Ing said he plans to introduce a bill that declares that the internet should remain equal and open to all. It also urges Congress to introduce legislation to cement net neutrality into American law as opposed to relying on easily repealable regulatory rules. Finally, it establishes a task force to explore the feasibility of creating public broadband networks to ensure corporate interests could not influence traffic.
“Locally owned internet is the only way to protect net neutrality for decades to come,” Ing told Motherboard. The task force created by the passage of his bill would be responsible for evaluating whether the government should extend grants to support the construction of the necessary infrastructure for these community-owned networks.
Turning the Lights On
Politicians from New York, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, and other states have asserted that the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality was illegal and should be rolled back. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has proposed a vote to overturn the ruling, while New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is suing to stop the repeal. One state lawmaker has even proposed making net neutrality law in California.
Clearly, the FCC’s vote has inspired many to act to keep the internet open and free, but what good is an open internet if you can’t use it?
Even with net neutrality in place, many people in the United States have had issues accessing broadband internet. It’s not just a rural problem, either. While infrastructure expansion is economically prohibitive for internet service providers (ISPs) in some of the more remote areas of the nation, the issue also affects Americans in urban areas.
According to the Wireless Broadband Alliance, more than 60 million urban-dwelling Americans are without or cannot afford access to high-speed internet. By lowering standards of acceptable broadband access, the FCC is poised to exacerbate this problem.
Locally owned broadband networks could help to mitigate that gap, especially if governments decide that it is in their best interest to subsidize them. Public broadband cooperatives could mirror the local electric cooperatives created by rural Americans in the early 20th century to bring electricity to areas where utility companies refused to expand.
The repeal of net neutrality increases corporate control over the internet, and backlash toward it could help fuel public internet ownership initiatives. If successful, they could ensure that one of the most powerful tools of democracy remains in the hands of the people it serves.