The Colorado House sent to the governor's desk Thursday a bill that attempts to ensure that telecommunications companies operating in the state abide by net neutrality standards tossed by the federal government in 2017.
Under that measure, SB78, telecommunications companies that provide broadband services in Colorado would be barred from receiving state grants if they engage in slowing down or blocking competitors on the internet.
Just like the Colorado Senate, the House approved the bill on a straight party-line vote. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.
"It is so vital that we move forward with Senate Bill 78 this year, and the key reason is because of work the General Assembly has recently done on broadband deployment around the state," said Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, who introduced the bill with Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Democratic Sens. Jeff Bridges of Greenwood Village, and Kerry Donovan, whose district includes Delta County.
"We have set aside nearly $170 million to support new internet connections, broadband deployment to every corner of Colorado," Hansen said. "That was an incredibly important step that we took together as a General Assembly, but there was one important problem that we didn't address, and that is, what happens if we get in a situation where one of those new providers decides to offer service that's not net neutral."
Net neutrality standards require telecommunications companies to treat all internet communications equally, and not hinder an open internet by charging more or disrupting service based on specific users, websites, competing companies or any other method of communication on the internet because of competition concerns.
Under President Barack Obama's administration, the Federal Communications Commission adopted strict network access standards, but those rules were tossed in 2017 by President Donald Trump's appointee as chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, a longtime opponent of net neutrality.
That decision triggered several lawsuits and state legislation aimed at bringing the standards back as much as possible.
But since states are legally barred from reversing that FCC action, states such as Colorado have looked for ways to impact it as best as the law allows, Herod said.
"Let me just break this down for you," Herod said. "Internet, good. Slower, restricted internet, bad."
"Let me break this down for you," countered House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock. "Internet, good. Government-controlled internet, bad."
Neville and other Republican opponents to the bill said the internet has done well because of a lack of government regulation, adding that measures such as this are going to harm consumers.
Hansen and Herod, however, said the bill doesn't attempt to regulate internet providers, just punish those who violate open internet standards. "I reject the characterization that this bill is somehow government control, in fact, it's the exact opposite," Hansen said. "We place no controls over the internet."