Could Minnesota establish its own net neutrality protections?

Two state lawmakers think so, and laid out their proposal this week.

The federal government no longer requires internet providers to follow net neutrality standards.

So two state lawmakers think Minnesota should establish its own open internet rules.

Rep. Paul Thissen and Sen. Ron Latz, both Democrats from the Twin Cities, sketched out a proposal Tuesday that would require companies providing internet service to Minnesotans to follow some core net neutrality principles.

That includes no blocking of websites or applications, and no internet fast lanes (where an ISP charges sites or services in exchange for faster loading times – aka "paid prioritization").


This map shows rural Minnesota will suffer most from net neutrality repeal

Thissen, while announcing the proposal Tuesday, called the internet an "essential" part of a healthy economy and democracy, while describing the ISPs as the "gatekeepers."

"And we should not allow ... internet service providers to block people based on their content, or to block people based on the fact they can't pay as much as other people might be able to pay," he said. "I think that is absolutely the wrong direction to go, and that is what this net neutrality debate is all about."

Data privacy is part of it

During this past Legislative session, both Thissen and Latz backed an amendment requiring ISPs to get written permission from a customer before collecting and selling their data (which, like net neutrality, came after a rollback of national protections).

The amendment had widespread bipartisan support, but the language was eliminated from the final bill.

The proposal will be brought up again for the 2018 session, and the net neutrality language bundled with it.

"I think we are on the right side of history on this one," Latz said. 

He painted a picture of ISPs tracking everything people do on the web – "what sites we go to, what products we purchase, what news sites we look to, where we engage in social media" – and then creating customized internet service packages based on those preferences.


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"And we will end up having dynamic pricing on a personalized level, which will charge each individual consumer more for the stuff that they like to see, that they like to do on the internet," he said, adding later: "[ISPs] will maximize their profit by targeting individual consumer preferences."

Could federal changes upend this?

Thissen and Latz will have to write a bill for the 2018 session, get it passed in both chambers, and get the governor's signature for it to become law.

And even if that happens, state rules could be threatened by federal law changes. 

Comcast has already asked the FCC to clarify that federal rules preempt any state laws. And a bill proposed by Republican Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn Tuesday (which would bring back two core net neutrality principles) would also block states from setting their own net neutrality protections, The Hill says.


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Thissen acknowledged they might be swimming against the federal current here, but argued Minnesota will still have some power. The state, when granting ISPs permission to operate (permits, easements and grants, for example), could require them to follow net neutrality and data privacy standards if they want to do business here, he said.

“Minnesota should and will protect its residents from the growing domination of a few huge companies," he said in a statement. "The steps outlined today start us down that path."

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