Politics & Government

The feds scrapped their rules for an open internet. Now the fight moves to the state level.

What is net neutrality?

The F.C.C. is set to repeal rules that require internet providers to give consumers equal access to all content online. Here’s how it works.
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The F.C.C. is set to repeal rules that require internet providers to give consumers equal access to all content online. Here’s how it works.

The state should make sure that broadband internet companies don't interfere with residents' access to websites, a North Carolina state senator said Monday.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, said he will file a bill to prohibit broadband internet service providers from inhibiting open access by blocking some sites, charging extra for 'fast lanes', or intentionally slowing or speeding service.

Open access to the internet is especially important in rural areas, he said, where 88 percent of residents do not have a choice of internet service providers.

"Our principles of openness and fairness, or net neutrality, allow small business owner and individual users to access the internet without interference from broadband service providers," Chaudhuri said at a net neutrality roundtable he hosted Monday.

Chaudhuri's bill probably won't go anywhere this year. But if passed, it would essentially restore in North Carolina the net neutrality rules in place under former President Barack Obama's administration.

Under President Donald Trump, the Federal Communications Commission scrapped the rules in a 3-2 vote last December. The repeal is set to go into effect June 11.

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who pushed the repeal, will be in North Carolina Tuesday to talk about the importance of bridging the digital divide. He'll make a stop at Graham High School in the Alamance-Burlington school district to talk about broadband in public school classrooms.

Chaudhuri's bill will be a starting point for the legislature diving into the topic, said Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Mecklenburg County Republican.

The issues won't be resolved this year, said Tarte, who is co-chairman of the Joint Oversight Committee on Information Technology and one of the leaders of a new technology caucus. Republicans control the state House and Senate.

"It has ramification for kids in school to businesses throughout the state," Tarte said. "This topic is going to need a full and rigorous hearing in the committee process."

Repeal of the net neutrality rules has been controversial.

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The U.S. Senate voted narrowly last week to keep the Obama-era rules, and some states are fighting the repeal. Governors in six states have signed executive orders requiring internet providers who sign government contracts to adhere to net neutrality principles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Legislators in 29 states have introduced net neutrality bills, the NCSL says.

A law signed in March in Washington state makes it illegal for broadband providers to block or slow websites.

But the future of the federal bill is unclear.

"The chances of passing the House seem pretty slim at this point," said Chuck Tryon, an associate professor at Fayetteville State University. "I don't see President Trump signing on to it."

The FCC's net neutrality repeal included rules that block the states from setting up their own regulations.

Courts may end up deciding whether Washington, and perhaps other states, can impose their own net neutrality laws.

Any attempt to pre-empt federal regulations would "probably result in litigation that would likely drag on for quite a long time," said Mark Johnson, chief technology strategist for MCNC, the state nonprofit that offers education and research networks.

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Bonner: 919-829-4821; @Lynn_Bonner
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