JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers are taking the issue of net neutrality into their own hands. Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki introduced a bill, House Bill 277, earlier this week that would protect net neutrality rules for Alaskan internet users. Now two senators are planning to introduce a joint resolution intended to send a message to Congress that Alaska does not support the repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules.
If passed, the bill would allow the state to be able to regulate as if it were the federal government when it comes to broadband internet service providers within the state’s borders. Kawasaki said the resolution introduced Friday is meant to urge Congress to act.
“If we can’t pass the bill maybe we can at least pass a strongly worded message from our state to Congress that says that we should bring back net neutrality,” Kawasaki said Thursday. “The message that we want to deliver to Congress is that we’d like Congress to overturn the FCC’s ruling that ended net neutrality.”
Introduced by Anchorage Democratic Sens. Tom Begich and Bill Wielechowski, Senate Joint Resolution 12 calls on Congress to put forward a joint resolution of disapproval within 60 legislative days of the Federal Communication Commission’s official ruling. A simple majority vote from the House and Senate would reinstate net neutrality.
Kawasaki said he and Wielechowski have been working on legislation to address the issue of net neutrality since the Federal Communication Commission’s decision to repeal the Obama-era rules in December.
“If Congress won’t protect the consumers of Alaska, we in the legislature must,” Begich said. “Access to information is vital to Alaskans and shouldn’t be endangered, especially in rural areas of the state.”
Wielechowski said the FCC’s ruling extinguished the protections net neutrality gave to Alaskans.
“With their vote, the FCC is knowingly allowing internet service providers to charge customers higher rates to access certain websites, download music, watch videos, or to slow down or block sites altogether,” Wielechowski said. “This decision will negatively impact individual consumers, small businesses, startup companies and entrepreneurs that rely upon a free and open internet.”
Alaska is not the first state to make this move. Under an executive orders from their governors, New York and Montana have already implemented legislation which prevents ISPs from obtaining state contracts unless they follow net neutrality rules. Kawasaki noted that several other states have introduced legislation similar to his bill and nearly half of the state’s attorneys general have filed an injunction against the FCC’s ruling.
“There are some questions about the federal preemption clause which was part of the original FCC order and whether that’s valid and legal and I think state’s are trying to push it to the limit and that’s what I would like to do here in the state,” Kawasaki said.
Kawasaki said Alaska is in a unique position because the state has so few internet providers.
“Alaska is really limited so net neutrality means even more for Alaska than it does for other states,” he said.
The issue has also been taken up again by Congress, with 50 U.S. senators ready to reverse the FCC repeal of the Obama-era rules.
In an interview with Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Jan. 17, the News-Miner asked if she would be the 51st to support such an action.
Murkowski said she was told there was legislation that has been drafted to reverse the FCC ruling but the bill has not been reviewed by the Commerce Committee yet. Murkowski said she would prefer to address the issue through legislation rather than implementing Congressional Review action.
“There is going to be some months before a CRA (Congressional Review Act) action would be ripe,” Murkowski told the News-Miner. “If it looks like there is legislation that should move forward, that is my preferred approach.”
The senator said that the repeal of net neutrality rules has the potential to greatly affect Alaska in a number of areas including education and tele-health.
“If we have limitations that would hinder our ability to act in these areas, I have real concerns about that,” Murkowski said.
Currently there’s no telling when action could be taken on the matter though.
“It’s a timing issue. As of right now, the CRA has not yet been filed, for lack of a better word,” Murkowski said. “Once that is filed, that sets the legislative clock off. It’s based on that timing and based on the number of days in session.”
Until then, statewide legislation to maintain net neutrality rules has been introduced to the state legislature and is quickly gaining sponsors.
Contact staff writer Erin Granger at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.