House and Senate Democrats are considering bills to make Pennsylvania the next state to approve net neutrality regulations.
The Federal Communications Commissions voted in 2017 to repeal a 2015 net neutrality rule. Supporters of the change said ending net neutrality would encourage innovation and free the industry from burdensome regulations.
Opponents fear the change will lead internet service providers (ISPs) to charge more for some content and price out low-income consumers.
State Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, has introduced a bill in the Senate that would make the internet a public utility and require ISPs to follow net neutrality rules. ISPs that do not follow the rules would be banned from holding contracts with the state. A second bill introduced by Farnese would require ISPs to treat all information on the internet equally.
State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia, introduced a similar bill in the House. The three bills remain in committees.
Some lawmakers are concerned the rules could eventually hurt the economy by making internet access cost-prohibitive, and some have argued that Broadband Internet Service Access is regulating the Internet. That is not true, testified Gladys Brown Dutrieuille, chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, at a recent hearing of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.
“BIAS oversight is not regulating the Internet any more than the post office is regulating the content of the mail,” Dutrieuille said.
Lawmakers asked panelists what happens in 10 years if no changes are made to net neutrality.
Change will happen, but it will be slow, said Joshua Stager, senior policy counsel and Government Affairs lead for the Open Technology Institute. A two-tiered internet will be created – one for the haves and one for the have-nots, “where if you can pay for the fast lane you get it, if you can’t you go to the slow lane,” he said.
Six states have approved net neutrality rules, including Pennsylvania’s neighbor, New Jersey. The committee recently heard testimony from Andrew Zwicker, a New Jersey assemblyman, who said the federal government has left it up to the states.
“An open internet is key to innovation, it’s key to economic development, and I do not believe it’s grandiose to say it is a key to the common core of our democracy,” Zwicker told the panel.
Farnese has been discussing net neutrality since the FCC’s ruling. In 2018, he encouraged Gov. Tom Wolf to issue an executive order addressing the issue. Attorney General Josh Shapiro joined 21 other states in a lawsuit opposing the FCC’s net neutrality rollback.