Restoring the rules prohibiting internet service providers from charging customers more to livestream the Winter Olympics or slowing access to certain websites would ensure Nebraskans can participate in the global economy, Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld said Tuesday.

Testifying before the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, Morfeld joked his Internet Neutrality Act (LB856) would also allow his fellow senators to continue posting cat videos to Facebook without concern they could be shut off for eating up too much bandwidth.

But, turning serious, Morfeld said his bill aims to restore the net neutrality guidelines enacted in 2015 and repealed by the Federal Communications Commission last December on a 3-2 party line vote.

“If we fail to protect internet neutrality for all Nebraskans, we are inhibiting our ability to participate in the 21st century economy and connect with the rest of the world,” Morfeld told the committee.

LB856 would require broadband internet providers to disclose information regarding their management practices, service performance and prices to users, while also preventing those providers from blocking or restricting access to content, or offering “paid prioritization” services to customers who elect to pay more.

Morfeld’s bill adds Nebraska to a list of 15 states that are considering or have enacted similar legislation following the FCC’s repeal of the Obama-era guidelines.

In a lengthy ruling published in January, the FCC said allowing individual states to establish a “patchwork of separate and potentially conflicting requirements” was pre-empted by the new federal guidelines.

Morfeld shrugged off those concerns Tuesday, saying individual states have regulated internet service providers in other ways without the federal government seeming to mind.

He said since the last revision of the Federal Communications Act in 1996, the internet has “so fundamentally changed and enveloped our lives,” growing into an economic driver and also a way for Nebraskans to interact and express themselves locally as well as around the globe.

Gavin Geis, executive director of Common Cause Nebraska, said more Nebraskans are relying on the internet to explore and engage with their government at all levels.

Without net neutrality rules, companies that connect people to the internet could effectively control or skew the political conversation, he added.

“You shouldn’t be able to load the (Democratic National Committee’s) website faster than the (Republican National Committee’s) website,” he said.

The ACLU of Nebraska equated internet rights with civil rights, because the internet has become a critical platform for Americans to express their First Amendment rights, executive director Danielle Conrad said.

Largely rural states such as Nebraska benefit from net neutrality rules, said John Hansen of the Nebraska Farmers Union, because users in vast swaths of the state only have one option for internet service and little recourse if that service is too expensive or too slow.

Telecommunications organizations opposed the bill, calling the repeal of the federal rules a step in the right direction both for internet service providers and their customers.

Speaking on behalf of CTIA, a wireless communications trade association, Gerry Keegan said the 2015 net neutrality rules applied “1930s-style regulations meant for the rotary phone era” to an innovative broadband marketplace, stifling investment in broadband access across the U.S.

Even without net neutrality rules, “strong consumer protections remain in place today,” enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, Keegan added.

Joselyn Luedtke, representing the Nebraska Cable Communications Association, implored the committee to not advance Morfeld’s bill and let providers follow the new FCC rules.

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