ELLSWORTH — Legislation sponsored by Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth and Trenton) aimed at protecting internet users was signed into law by Governor Janet Mills last week.
“Internet service providers should not be the gatekeepers of the internet and its potential to connect people and provide critical information,” Grohoski said in a statement.
In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), repealed rules that required all internet traffic receive equal treatment by internet service providers.
In other words, the rules prevented providers such as Comcast or AT&T from speeding up access or delivering higher-quality versions of certain websites.
The rules had gone into effect two years earlier and barred internet service providers from three practices: blocking certain websites or apps, slowing transmission of data based on content or speeding up access for certain companies or users who paid more.
Opponents of the rule’s rollback worried that without protections, internet companies would start selling access to certain websites, similar to cable packages, charging more for popular websites such as Facebook and Amazon.
But the chairman of the FCC who presided over the rollback argued that the rules weren’t necessary and that providers hadn’t actually been engaging in the behavior that had been prohibited.
The bill submitted by Grohoski will take effect in September. It requires that any internet service provider contracted by the state adhere to the 2015 FCC order and agree not to block lawful content, favor some websites over others or “throttle” (slow down) internet traffic based on its content.
“The internet is a powerful economic and educational tool that can open doors of opportunity for Maine people and small businesses,” Mills said in a statement.
“That potential should not be limited by internet service providers interested in increasing their profits. I hope net neutrality will be fully restored in federal law, but in the meantime I welcome this new law as a positive step forward for Maine and as a sign that we will protect a free and open internet for Maine people.”
The law could be open to challenges — Vermont and California both agreed to suspend enforcement of similar laws after they were challenged in court by a group of broadband industry lobbying groups.
The FCC has been battling in court with public interest groups and companies seeking to restore net neutrality, and the United States Department of Justice sued California over its law, arguing that it conflicts with federal rules.
This hasn’t deterred local legislators: according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 29 states introduced some type of net neutrality legislation in the 2019 session. Attempts to restore net neutrality have passed the U.S. House but were, in the words of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “dead-on-arrival” in the Senate. President Donald Trump has vowed to veto any such legislation.
“While this legislation will not protect consumers in the comprehensive way that the FCC is able to, it is one step that Maine can take to maintain net neutrality,” Grohoski said.
“Maine is leading the way and showing internet consumers that we care about their right to access this critical utility.”