Legislature(2017 - 2018)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
02/13/2018 01:30 PM LABOR & COMMERCE
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SB 160-BROADBAND INTERNET: NEUTRALITY/REGULATION 2:19:53 PM CHAIR COSTELLO reconvened the meeting and announced the consideration of SB 160. SENATOR TOM BEGICH, Alaska State Legislature Juneau, Alaska, sponsor of SB 160, introduced the legislation speaking to the following sponsor statement. SB 160 would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who provide broadband Internet to Alaskans to engage in the practice of net neutrality. The bill would make sure all data on the Internet is treated equally. It would protect small businesses from uncompetitive practices and guarantee unrestricted Internet access for all Internet users. Without net neutrality, ISPs may legally speed up certain sites, slow down others, block sites all together, and require certain users to pay more for Internet fast lanes. The elimination of net neutrality gives ISPs the power to determine what websites consumers could visit and what content website creators could share. Allowing ISPs to discriminate based on content undermines a free and open Internet. On multiple occasions, millions of Americans have publicly commented in favor of protecting net neutrality and have spoken out against the recent Federal Communications Commission order to eliminate net neutrality rules implemented in 2015. The internet is a modern necessity for individuals and businesses. Net neutrality is widely supported by consumer rights groups, privacy groups, and businesses organizations. This bill would ensure that the Internet remains a platform for economic competition and free communication. SENATOR BEGICH thanked the committee for passing SJR 12. The resolution relates to net neutrality and SB 160 moves the issue to the local level. He explained that net neutrality means that an internet service provider (ISP) is not able to decide what an individual does on the internet and cannot block content or slow the service. 2:22:23 PM SENATOR BEGICH read the following excerpts from Fast Facts for Conservatives on Net Neutrality by the Christian Coalition to illustrate that net neutrality affects everyone regardless of their beliefs: "Net neutrality" policies helped create the most free and fair marketplace in history, allowing consumers to choose the winners and losers in a competitive marketplace. This resulted in the best ideas, products and services rising to top. The new regulations will leave consumers with less choice and our economy with less innovation and competition. Without equality of access, such innovation would be diminished at best, or perhaps even begin to move to competing countries in the world economy. The new FCC regulations set the cable and phone companies up to become the equivalent of the mafia to the Internet. Today, consumers dictate the evolution of the Internet. Under the new regulations, cable and phone companies will be making the decisions. And their decisions will not be made based on quality, but rather on who pays the most "protection money" to be protected from the competition of a truly free marketplace. To the question of whether the bill preempts federal law, Senator Begich said the state has repeatedly questioned the federal government's authority to dictate to the state. Some of the issues on which the state pushed back were navigable rivers, coastlines, and hunting and fishing rights. In each instance the legislature sought to protect the rights of Alaskans first and then let the courts decide when it was ambiguous. On the issue of net neutrality, it is unclear whether it is or is not ambiguous. Over 30 states are considering or have introduced similar legislation. This sends a message to Washington, D.C. SENATOR BEGICH said this issue should be decided at the federal level and an Alaska ISP agrees. His office also agrees that the Alaska Legislature should send a message to the Alaska delegation, just as it did with the resolution [SJR 12] that it is willing to act and protect Alaskans. The internet has always been and should always be a platform for free speech and free enterprise. It should not be up to ISPs to pick the winners and losers. Labor and Commerce is the Senate's committee on the economy and innovation and this committee should speak with the strongest voice on all the issues that could threaten the economy or innovation. 2:26:45 PM SENATOR STEVENS asked who could be opposed to this legislation. SENATOR BEGICH said he can't imagine reasonable people would be opposed to it, but the record shows that very large ISPs would oppose it. CHAIR COSTELLO read the language on page 1, lines 7-9, and asked if this is already being publicly disclosed and the meaning of "accurate information." 2:29:31 PM SYNDEY LIENEMANN, PhD., Staff, Senator Tom Begich, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska Juneau, Alaska, said the FCC requires internet providers to make public the things listed in subsection (a). The state Consumer Protection Board does not currently require public disclosure. CHAIR COSTELLO asked for a list of the states that have passed or are contemplating legislation similar to SB 160, and who drafted the bill. SENATOR BEGICH agreed to provide the list. He advised that Legislative Legal drafted the bill based on Washington State law. CHAIR COSTELLO referred to the language on page 3, lines 8-9, and asked what the ramification would be if a company did not publicly disclose accurate information. SENATOR BEGICH said they'd be taken to court by the Consumer Protection Bureau. CHAIR COSTELLO asked him to talk about the difference between the legislature communicating through a resolution versus statutory changes. SENATOR BEGICH explained that the resolution instructs the Congressional delegation to act within the prescribed window and reject the new federal regulation. If that were to happen the bill would be moot. SB 160 is a backup plan that sets a model and a template for legislation at the federal level. That's where the decision ultimately should be made. DR. LIENEMANN advised that the Congressional Review Act allows Congress to reject new regulations within 60 days of publication in the federal registry. To date the FCC has not published that regulation. 2:34:48 PM SENATOR MEYER opined that this should be done at the federal level. He posited that Alaska could be disadvantaged if individual states pass laws and large ISPs decide to go only to those states that have the largest populations. SENATOR BEGICH said he believes that passing SB 160 could improve the ability of providers like ACS and GCI to compete because they would be required to offer Alaskans broader content than an outside competitor that isn't bound by net neutrality. Second, the bill sets an example and a template for the federal government to follow. Marijuana, marriage, and federal land issues have been driven by action at the state level. "We have a chance to be a leader in this process and I think we should." 2:36:36 PM SENATOR STEVENS asked him to talk about the FCC decision and what that commission thought it was accomplishing. SENATOR BEGICH explained that when the internet was in its infancy it was regulated like a telephone call under Title I of the FCC Act. This is fairly light-touch on the regulatory spectrum. Regulation under Title II was used for information sources and information services that one might want to store or keep and download. While the internet was developing, a series of actions took place that led the FCC to realize it needed to attempt to more fully regulate the internet under Title I. One example was when Comcast forced Netflix to compromise to ensure smooth content delivery. In 2010 the FCC attempted further regulation under Title I and in 2014 a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C. rejected the attempt. The FCC moved the regulation of the internet to Title II in 2015. This time the judge agreed with the FCC that Title II was a more appropriate place to regulate the industry to ensure content neutrality. In November 2017 there was indication that the FCC was about to make a change. Millions of pro and con statements were sent to the FCC, many of which were falsified on both sides. The FCC was urged to hold the decision. Governor Walker wrote to urge the FCC to examine the issue further. However, the chair of the FCC chose to move forward in late December 2017 and returned the internet to the light-touch regulatory framework. Experience shows that is not a way to protect net neutrality, he said. SENATOR STEVENS asked how members voted. SENATOR BEGICH said it passed by one vote. CHAIR COSTELLO added that the vote was 4:3. 2:40:16 PM CHAIR COSTELLO opened public testimony on SB 160. 2:40:32 PM JEANIE PIERCE, representing self, Kasilof, Alaska, testified in support of SB 160. Responding to Senator Steven's query, she said Sinclair Broadcasting doesn't like net neutrality. She said this issue is about whether consumers can trust the FCC to act in the best interest to maintain the free, open, and neutral internet that consumers have enjoyed for decades. To roll back net neutrality protections would allow ISPs to give preferential treatment to certain users to the detriment of others. She emphasized that everyone should be treated equally. She urged members to, "Do what's right for the Alaska citizens, not what's best for your political party's interest." 2:44:51 PM DON MCNAMARA, representing self, Homer, Alaska, testified in support of SB 160. He said he is in favor of a free and open internet and agrees with the previous speaker. 2:45:27 PM DONNA RAE FAULKNER, representing self, Homer, Alaska, testified in support of SB 160. She said she supports a free and open internet and everything the sponsor said to the committee. She appreciates SB 160 and hopes it passes. 2:45:47 PM TARA RICH, Legal and Policy Director, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alaska, Juneau, Alaska, said it would be shocking and abhorrent if a telephone company could detect who you were talking to or the subjects you were talking about. Similarly, everyone would be up in arms if a telephone company were to intentionally drop or block calls based on subject matter. Because it is possible for internet companies to track what people look at and what they do on the internet, net neutrality is important to prevent an ISP from slowing or blocking content. This has happened in the past on more than one occasion. In 2007 Comcast saw its business model threatened and throttled a peer-to-peer sharing network called BitTorrent. Young people primarily used it to download free movies, but it is also used for open content such as trade manuals and videos. Video sharing has since proliferated throughout the internet and net neutrality prevents an identical throttling situation. It's a matter of letting the market forces work. She said net neutrality is also a free speech issue. Today the internet is used extensively for work and entertainment, but freedom of expression isn't worth much when the fora where people are having those conversations are not themselves free. MS. RICH said there isn't agreement about whether federal law would preempt legislation such as SB 160. Given that lack of consensus, the ACLU believes the courts should decide the issue rather than trying to preempt it legislatively. She recommended looking at Portugal's internet plan to see what a world without net neutrality looks like. It's a stark image, she said. 2:50:56 PM SENATOR STEVENS asked if a court case was underway. MS. RICH said 22 state attorneys general have filed suit related primarily to the FCC process during public comment. It also challenges whether the FCC would need to create an entirely new regulatory scheme rather than just eliminating the prior one. Mozilla, the Free Press and others have lawsuits pending waiting for the law to take effect and be published on the federal register. SENATOR STEVENS commented it's likely to take years and years. MS. RICH agreed that was a possibility. SENATOR MICCICHE said he supports net neutrality and the resolution but this legislation seems premature. He asked if she would agree that Congress probably supports net neutrality. MS. RICH said she believes that SB 160 would encourage Congress to overturn the FCC's open internet order of December 2017. It would certainly show the Alaska delegation that Alaska is united on the issue. SENATOR MICCICHE opined that the bill would be completely unenforceable outside of state lines and the issue is larger than that. MS. RICH agreed that the Alaska Legislature can't regulate companies that have no business in Alaska. Alaskans would also be affected if GCI or ACS uses Comcast's cables through peering agreements to transmit Netflix and other video to Alaska. She said states should present a united front; 30 states have introduced or are contemplating similar legislation. SENATOR MICCICHE shared a personal example to illustrate that internet use is tracked. He asked if the ACLU considers and is concerned that it's unconstitutional under Alaska's privacy clause. "How much right do we have to push back as a state on those larger privacy issues?" MS. RICH said the ACLU of Alaska is about to launch the Alaska Privacy Project that looks directly at those issues. She said there are privacy implications with the way net neutrality would be enforced that are relevant to the privacy clause of the constitution. The ISP would need to know what people are accessing to be able to block or throttle it. 2:58:14 PM CHAIR COSTELLO closed public testimony on SB 160 and held the bill in committee.