There have been several misguided attempts by state and local governments to supersede the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Dec. 14, 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which restored the internet's proper classification as an information service, as was intended from the internet's earliest days. It was under this light-touch regulation that the internet thrived and became one of the greatest innovations in history, creating millions of high-paying jobs and revolutionizing the world of commerce. Some of the best places in the whole country for high-paying tech jobs are located in Colorado.
HB 18-1312 would essentially force internet service providers (ISPs) to abide by the rules that the FCC overturned in December. The legislation will be subject to a lengthy and likely fruitless court battle the will cost the citizens of Colorado millions in taxpayer dollars. If will also help drive jobs away from Colorado, hurt local businesses, and increase the urban/rural divide across the state.
The bill's sponsors claim the legislation is necessary to protect consumers and to resist the federal government. Neither is true.
The legislation would restore the heavy-handed regulations that the FCC had in place from 2015 to 2017, which were an aberration in the history of light touch regulation of the internet.
The 2015 rules placed ISPs - but not any other companies or edge providers in the internet ecosystem - under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which was originally intended to control a land line telephone monopoly in 1934. These regulations were particularly damaging to providers serving rural areas, including many in Colorado, which were overwhelmed with the regulatory requirements. Since the December 2017 repeal of those regulations, progressive politicians and special interest groups have seized upon the issue in their efforts to show off their opposition to whatever the Trump administration is doing on any particular day. HB 18-1312 is an example of this virtue signaling. However, it goes further and does more damage than most similar bills.
Colorado is among several states that have established a high cost support program to aid in the deployment of rural broadband. In addition to making it unprofitable for ISPs to develop rural internet service in unserved regions of the state, HB 18-1312 adds insult to injury by making ISPs ineligible for high cost funding if they do not comply with the very net neutrality rules that rendered rural broadband deployment unprofitable in the first place.
Unserved rural Coloradans who would benefit from the high cost plan are now in danger of being left with no service at all. In addition, because of the way the legislation has been drafted, if a broadband internet provider has already received grants and loans from the high cost fund, and has started to deploy broadband in unserved or under-served areas, that work may have to be abandoned.
Because the internet is not contained within one state's boundaries, but instead crosses state borders across the nation, the regulation of the internet must be retained at the federal level.
Should HB 18-1312 become law, a court is highly likely to find it unconstitutional as it usurps the federal government's constitutional authority under the Commerce Clause. While left unsaid by most, turning state governments against the current administration is the real goal of the perpetually outraged anti-Trump left.
The top complaint of internet consumers, especially those in underserved areas, is that they want better service with more choices, not that they are worried about being mistreated by their service providers. Advocates crying for greater government control of the internet are pushing HB 18-1312 in an effort to impress their liberal base as part of their widespread and sometimes irrational fight with the federal government. The result of their campaign will be to hang rural Coloradans out to dry and leave taxpayers with the bill.
Spencer Chretien serves as State Policy & Government Affairs Manager at Citizens Against Government Waste, a private, non-partisan, non-profit organization representing more than one million members and supporters nationwide. Prior to joining CAGW, he worked for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).