Without net neutrality

States try to replace federal rules

Net neutrality is an issue that came late to Nevada.

Net neutrality is an issue that came late to Nevada.


With all campaigns in Nevada’s primary election coming to a head on election eve—June 11—other news that day got overlooked, including this: Net neutrality ended that day.

It took time for the net neutrality issue to take hold in Nevada. In 2014, though the issue was highly evolved elsewhere, few activists in Nevada knew of it and fewer understood it.

“Not off the top of my head,” said Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Director Bob Fulkerson in 2014, when asked if he knew of anyone championing the issue ("Nettled,” RN&R, June 12, 2014).

Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Dean Heller was working hard to get net neutrality repealed, and no one in Nevada seemed disturbed.

“Net neutrality goes against years of sound internet policy—led by both Democrats and Republicans—to leave the internet virtually unregulated, that has ushered in an era of wonderful innovation and billions in private investment in infrastructure,” Heller said.

On Dec. 14, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality rules adopted during Democratic primacy, which treated the internet like a public utility. The effect of that FCC vote came on June 11. Nothing changed immediately, but then no one expected it to. As attorney Chad Marlow wrote in an essay posted on the website of ACLU of Nevada, “Almost certainly not, because the big telecoms that fought so hard to kill net neutrality are smarter than that.” Objectionable behavior by internet service providers (ISPs) right away would have fueled revival of neutrality.

It’s amazing what taking net neutrality away from Nevadans has done. There is now a “Nevada For Net Neutrality” Facebook page. Protests around the state have been held to fight repeal. Groups have formed to fight the negative impacts that repeal could impose on Latinos, the small counties, and others. Nevada politicians besides Heller have responded to the new grassroots interest.

Unfortunately, it all came so late in the game that it had little effect. Votes from the Nevada congressional delegation fell into expected party stances—Republicans against net neutrality, Democrats in favor.

The issue has risen in the U.S. Senate race this year, with Republican Heller in the minority in the Senate, which voted to override the FCC vote and reinstate neutrality. Heller’s Democratic opponent, Jacky Rosen, signed a discharge petition on May 21 to force a bill restoring neutrality out of committee for a floor vote. That petition is still about 50 signatures short.

“Undoing net neutrality will hurt our economy and will make it harder for startups and Americans to conduct their business, stifling innovation and growth,” Rosen said in a prepared statement. “Access to free and open internet service providers is especially important for Nevadans living in rural communities.”

With the passage of time, there has been growing recognition of the term net neutrality and increased understanding of what it means. It requires that governments and internet service providers handle all data equally, without imposing higher prices or otherwise treating anyone different for different methods of data delivery. When the web is neutral, a homemaker’s information travels at the same speed as Citicorp’s. And neutrality requires regulation—on an unregulated web, service providers can discriminate and provide different speeds at different prices. Critics of net neutrality call an unregulated internet “open.”

State governments

With the two houses of Congress stymied, attention has turned to the states, many of which have been processing state laws to reinstate net neutrality in their own jurisdictions.

The Nevada Legislature does not go back into session until February 2019, and we were unable to make contact with Assembly Democratic leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson before press time to learn if there is any political chatter about such an effort in this state.

A related factor is that, last year, Congress—including Heller and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei—voted to allow ISPs to sell their customers’ browsing histories. Trump signed that measure. Nevada and Minnesota were then the only two states with laws forbidding such sales.

The first new state net neutrality law took effect in Washington on June 11. Governors in five states have issued executive orders. Three-fifths of the state legislatures were processing legislation, and some of them have added privacy legislation to deal with the browsing history matter. Twenty-one state attorneys general—not including Nevada’s Adam Laxalt—are suing to keep net neutrality.

The FCC and AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are now trying to strip states of authority to adopt state statutes that would reinstate net neutrality. After getting rid of a single national net neutrality standard, they now complain about 50 state governments regulating them.

“As we have cautioned repeatedly, we simply cannot have 50 different regulations governing [broadband],” said industry trade group USTelecom. “It’s time for Congress to step up and enact legislation to make permanent and sustainable rules governing net neutrality.”

At the same time that citizens were pouring millions of protests into the Federal Communications Commission objecting to repeal of net neutrality, giant corporations were pouring millions of dollars into political campaign treasuries. AT&T, Comcast, Cox Communications or Verizon have enriched the campaign funds of every member of the Nevada congressional delegation, though Republicans tended to gather larger sums than Democrats.

In opposing reinstatement of neutrality, the libertarian magazine Reason has invoked Donald Trump’s unpopularity by asking, “[D]o you really want to give Donald Trump and the government more power over the internet?” It’s a legitimate question, but not the only one. Another question would be, “Do you really want AOL and Verizon to have unfettered power on the internet?” And it is important to recall that it was government that provided net neutrality in the first place—and President Obama who called for protecting it.