The Future of Net Neutrality in New York State
Now that elections are behind us, I thought it relevant to touch on one of the still pending political issues of our time; net neutrality. Ever since the repeal of the nationwide plan for net neutrality by the Federal Communications Commission, headed by Chairman Ajit Pai, thirty states have stepped up to the plate in terms of introducing their own net neutrality bills.ᶦ Of note is our own New York State, where Governor Andrew Cuomo first signed an executive order in January 2018.ᶦᶦ Then in June, as the FCC allowed rules to expire, the Assembly passed member Patricia Fahy’s bill promising to protect net neutrality and promote equal access to the Internet.ᶦᶦᶦ
What is net neutrality anyway? Why is it important to individuals, families, students, teachers, and even businesses? Net neutrality means applying the same rules to all traffic, regardless of source, destination, port or protocol.ᶦᵛ The American Civil Liberties Union answered some of these key questions in December 2017, linking net neutrality with the constitutionally guaranteed Right to Free Speech. Net neutrality means putting rules in place to work for consumers through their Internet providers. Common carrier rules have a centuries-old tradition, having been applied to canals, roads, highways, and other forms of modern and not so modern telecommunications.ᵛ
New Yorkers enjoy deregulated utilities where, regardless of carrier (National Grid for instance), we can purchase our electricity and natural gas from the provider of our predilection. Rules, like common carrier regulations applied to landline telephone service providers, require legislation. Since the FCC’s actions and inactions in June, it appears little headway has been made in the New York State Senate. Neither the Assembly’s bill, nor a suitable facsimile has even been considered on the floor of the Senate. This is easily available information, as the Senate has a page on their website dedicated to the topic; zero bills, resolutions, meetings, or public hearings.ᵛᶦ
This idea of net neutrality is a progressive one after all. This makes the new democratic majority in the Senate, as one might imagine, a small miracle for supporters of net neutrality. Small miracles, maybe in plural, as Gov. Cuomo maintained his governorship in the face of some very tempting opposition from third parties. Letitia (Tish) James was also elected attorney general, clocking-in as New York’s first female African American to occupy the post. Supporters of net neutrality take note that Tish’s interests include creating an Internet Bureau to enforce net neutrality and investigate data breaches, with another reminder that the Senate must create a legal framework for the Attorney General to interpret and enforce. Tish also isn’t afraid to ask the Senate for the teeth her office would need to prosecute these and other violations independently of the governor’s office.ᵛᶦᶦ
New York has also joined in the series of law suits against the FCC, further cementing our trajectory on the subject. I mean, who wouldn’t want equal access to content, varying only by speed and how much we’re willing to pay for that speed? A majority of states understand that piecemeal net neutrality laws can’t protect consumers the way a national regime needs to, but the current administration’s stance is not likely to change. Nonetheless, I trust in the people I voted for, and beyond voting, writing this article is the most I can think to do as a concerned citizen. We have the power to enact change at the local, county, and state levels, and I hope the 2018 elections woke New York up to that fact.