Net Neutrality Debate Advances To IL General Assembly

Apr 12, 2018

Khadine Bennett, associate legislative director for the ACLU of Illinois (left) and state Rep. Ann Williams (D- Chicago), present the net neutrality bill at the House Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, & IT Committee Wed., April 11, 2018.
Credit Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Illinois lawmakers Wednesday took a step closer to establishing state net neutrality rules before the federal regulations expire later this month. The Illinois proposal advanced out of a House committee and will be discussed by the General Assembly. But — there’s still confusion about consumer protections and the legality of the legislation.

Cable and internet service providers say they have already pledged their support for net neutrality — and the General Assembly getting involved is unnecessary.

But state Rep. Jonathan Carroll — a Northbrook Democrat — said he isn't convinced with just a pledge. “Words are one thing. But this gives them the opportunity to make more profit. So I’d like to know — besides words, where's the guarantee that they will not get away from net neutrality.”

Opponents say the Federal Trade Commission would be tasked with ensuring these providers keep their word.

The FCC voted last year to end net neutrality -- the idea that no websites are slowed down or blocked.  The Illinois proposal would ask Internet providers to disclose if they don’t plan to follow these guidelines.

Internet companies like Comcast have said they prefer to see the federal government set the rules. But it's unclear if the Trump administration plans to take up the matter after April 23 -- when the federal rules expire.

Matthew Brill, a lawyer representing these providers, testified at the Illinois hearing. He said having several different legislative approaches complicates business for his clients. “It has not been good for any of the stakeholders — for consumers, for industry players to toggle back and forth between different models of regulation that creates uncertainty and instability.”

But advocates say restoring net neutrality isn't a form of regulation -- but rather about internet content and fairness for consumers.