Can Illinois Restore Net Neutrality Protections?

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Illinois is joining several states scrambling to keep net neutrality protections before the federal repeal date of April 23.  Some Illinois legislators say they still have time to act with a plan before that deadline.

The Illinois proposal is scheduled for a hearing later this week. It would ask Internet service providers who contract with the state to disclose if they don’t plan to follow net neutrality rules.  Some opponents say this is another attempt to regulate the Internet.

But Khadine Bennett, associate legislative director for the ACLU of Illinois, says states are not allowed to regulate the Internet, which is a task reserved for the FCC. States, however, are allowed to set rules for anyone who does business within.  The proposal would not force Internet service providers to maintain net neutrality, she said. If a service provider holds a contract with the state, they would fall under a transparency disclosure.

“As a state, we have the ability to put whatever terms we want in our contracts. And we’re contracting with providers that really meet the needs of the state,” Bennett said.

State Rep. Ann Williams — a Chicago Democrat and sponsor of the proposal — says even though there’s not much time left, Illinois will still follow the lead of at least a dozen states who have drafted their own plans since the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality last year. The state of Washington last month became the first state to pass a law, while several other states, including the state of New York, have passed executive orders mirroring the Illinois legislation.

“This is not a small issue; this is not an issue that’s going to go away.  We are committed to doing whatever we can to get it across the finish line,” Williams said.

Wednesday’s hearing in Springfield will allow opponents and advocates to weigh in on the issue before deciding if it will be forwarded to the General Assembly. Williams said she hopes the plan is approved before April 23. 

And while discussions continue in Springfield, a lawsuit involving several attorneys general against the FCC is pending. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is part of that lawsuit.

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