On the same day the Washington state legislature approved first-of-its-kind Net Neutrality legislation, a similar measure advanced in the Alaska Legislature.
House Bill 277, sponsored by Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, moved from the House Labor and Commerce Committee to the House Finance Committee late Monday afternoon.
If signed into law, HB 277 would require internet providers in Alaska to “not block, impair, prioritize, or interfere with Internet access, website content or internet traffic.”
“I’m glad the Net Neutrality bill is starting to get some legs. I think that folks recognize that there is a need for an open and fair internet,” Kawasaki said.
HB 277 is almost identical to legislation that has been advanced in state capitols across the country following the Federal Communications Commission’s decision in December to gut rules intended to prevent internet companies from favoring some websites and applications.
Those rules had been enacted in 2015 after consumer concerns. The FCC’s December decision to remove the rules will become effective in April. Critically, the FCC decision prohibits states from enacting their own legislation. It isn’t clear how the disparity between state law and FCC ruling would be resolved, something telecommunications companies have pointed out in letters to the Labor and Commerce Committee and which lawmakers acknowledged during Monday’s hearing.
“I’m not sure the efficacy of a bill over a resolution … but the concept of a bill, I support,” Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks said.
In committee, opponents of HB 277 suggested that it was premature, given that the FCC’s ruling has not become effective and Alaskans have not seen any interference by Internet providers.
“I’m concerned that we have a solution here and we’re running around looking for a problem,” said Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage. “I don’t think we have a problem with the internet.”
On Tuesday morning, Kawasaki suggested that nothing prevents the Legislature from heading off a problem before it erupts.
“I think that sometimes the Legislature always waits for the worst to happen. In this case, I think the Legislature can avert disasters. I think that without Net Neutrality in place within our state, you’re going to find internet at slower speeds and higher costs,” he said.
Kawasaki’s bill isn’t the only legislation dealing with the topic this session in the Legislature. In the Senate, a similar bill by Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, has received one hearing in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, whose chairwoman, Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, has signed on as a cosponsor.
Kawasaki said it’s important to him for Alaskans to see that Net Neutrality is not a partisan issue. In the Alaska Legislature, that’s the case: In addition to Costello and two other Democrats, senators David Wilson, R-Wasilla, and Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, are cosponsoring Begich’s bill.
To head off a potential conflict between the FCC and any state law, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, has proposed a resolution asking Congress to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the FCC decision and restore Net Neutrality.
Alaska’s U.S. Senators, Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, are opposed to that strategy. They have issued statements echoing the point of view expressed by telecommunications companies, that Net Neutrality regulations deter infrastructure investment.
Wielechowski’s resolution has passed the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
That committee is chaired by Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage. Through a staffer, he declined comment on the Net Neutrality issue, saying he will speak when legislation is heard in the committee.
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