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Congress, states weigh action after net neutrality repeal

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass, via a taped recording from Washington, addresses a state legislative panel hearing as it considers how Massachusetts might respond after the Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality rules at the Massachusetts Statehouse Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

BOSTON (AP) — Support was growing in the U.S. Senate for a measure that would undo the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules, but votes were still lacking in the House, according to a leading congressional critic of the new federal policy.

Democratic Sen. Edward Markey testified on videotape during a hearing held Tuesday at the Massachusetts Statehouse by a legislative committee examining the potential consequences of the December order by the FCC that repealed the Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Those regulations barred internet providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from slowing or blocking customer access to apps and sites, or from favoring their own sites and apps.

While commission members have argued the repeal is needed to ensure the government maintains a “light touch” in its oversight of the industry, and large broadband providers have pledged the internet experience won’t change, critics like Markey contend it will harm consumers and businesses that rely heavily on broadband access for their products and customers.

“We are only one vote away from securing a victory in the Senate, but the votes are not there so far in the House of Representatives,” to overturn net-neutrality repeal, the Massachusetts Democrat said.

Markey plans to introduce a resolution in the Senate, utilizing a federal law known as the Congressional Review Act to undo the FCC action.

The Special Senate Committee on Net Neutrality and Consumer Protection was formed by Democratic legislative leaders to recommend potential state actions to counter the new federal rules.

More than 20 state attorneys general, including Democrat Maura Healey in Massachusetts, have filed suit in federal court to block the repeal of net-neutrality.

“The last thing we need is a slower, more expensive, more restrictive internet,” Healey told the panel on Tuesday.

Net neutrality is critical to the state’s technology-driven and knowledge-based economy, she said.

“This isn’t just about how much you will pay for Netflix or Amazon Prime or access to the hottest movies and new entertainment programming,” Healey said. “This is about young people having a harder time doing research or taking online classes, it’s about smaller businesses having a harder time competing against big corporations which may be able to pay more for faster access and services.”

Several states have taken or considered other action in response to the FCC, but their options are limited because the same order also pre-empts states and cities from imposing rules on broadband providers that would contradict the intention of the FCC.

Under an executive order signed Monday by New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, the state will only enter into contracts with internet providers who observe net neutrality. The governors of New York and Montana previously signed similar measures.

Legislation aimed at preserving net neutrality has been introduced in several other states, including in Rhode Island on Monday.

Senators on the committee said they had not yet decided on what course of action, if any, Massachusetts should take beyond supporting Healey’s legal efforts.

The New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, a regional industry trade group, said the best solution was not through individual states but creation of a nationwide standard.

“We support and adhere to the principles of net neutrality every day and we believe the best way to achieve lasting consumer protections while spurring innovation and investment is through bipartisan federal legislation that establishes a national standard,” said Tim Wilkerson, vice president and general manager of NECTA, in testimony prepared for the hearing.

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