29 State Rules for the Internet? Time for Congress to Act

By Brendan Flores

Few things are more important to underserved communities than the ability to access a free and open internet. Equity of online access – made possible through new infrastructure investments – continues to open new doors and opportunities, including for Filipino American and other Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Unfortunately, looking at this year’s legislative scorecard on internet openness and deployment, the results are disappointing: 29 disparate approaches and only one that’s on the right track.

This summer, legislators in 29 states introduced bills that create varying, often conflicting legal rules for regulating internet service. Moreover, these proposed rules would apply only inside their states’ boundaries. Three states have enacted state-specific laws, while Governors in another six states have signed executive orders. This flurry of state activity is largely in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which officially went into effect in June.

Imagine a cell tower in State A that transmits data to residents in States B and C. Or imagine an internet “backbone” line that crosses State A’s boundary to service residents in State B. If the states have conflicting broadband internet rules, the technical and financial issues of providing internet service would multiply. Accessibility for Filipino Americans, many of whom use the internet and social media to communicate and to receive their news, would also be impacted.

Having a patchwork of different state bills could also potentially slow some remarkable improvements in U.S. internet service. For example, broadband deployment has been steadily picking up steam, fueling the roll-out of high-speed technologies such as superfast 5G wireless. All of these leaps in innovation serve to increase access to the high-speed internet services that we need to continue to educate, connect with, and advocate for our communities.

There’s only one realistic solution. Congress should step in and pass a federal law that guarantees a free and open internet – permanently. This would clarify federal protections in order to avoid a back and forth of varying interpretations from one administration to another. The guidelines for such a law should be obvious: it should guarantee access to content and applications, prevent blocking or discrimination based on content, provide full transparency, and secure privacy rights across the entirety of the internet.

Online technologies don’t change when you cross a state boundary, and neither does the need to ensure that our communities, wherever they are, are not left behind. Our internet laws shouldn’t have to change state by state either. Congress must act now to affirm our right to a free and open internet with federal legislation that promotes equity of online access for consumers and entire communities.

We encourage you to let us know where you stand and to call your Member of Congress to make your voice heard.

Brendan Flores is the National Chairman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).