Fighting for a Free and Open Internet:
Protecting Net Neutrality in Maryland
I believe in a free and open internet; one where big companies cannot use monopoly power to prevent families, schools, and small businesses from affordably accessing the internet. In the 21st century, we need to start treating the internet like a utility, because you can’t run your business or get a good education without access to online resources.
Rolling back net neutrality rules will directly or indirectly harm every Marylander. The Trump Administration’s efforts, coupled with Governor Hogan’s silence, will severely injure Maryland’s innovation economy and the education of public school students across the state. Fortunately, there are actions that we can take at the state-level to defend against these harms and I will stand with Attorney General Frosh, who is leading the national charge to protect Marylanders’ right to use the internet.
Net neutrality rules prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, throttling, or prioritizing online content for Americans. The Trump Administration’s FCC succeeded in reclassifying ISPs under Title I as an information service, thus removing the FCC’s authority to enforce net neutrality principles and ensure that ISPs treat all internet traffic equally. In the new regulatory framework, broadband and telecom companies will now be able to put higher prices on selected content. An ISP might choose, for example, to prioritize services in which the ISP is invested, and punish the services of its competitors. Because there are so few ISPs, the interests of Maryland consumers might not rank important in these company’s content prioritization decisions. This could generate prohibitive costs for Marylanders trying to access information and resources online. For small and medium size local businesses, this might mean operating at a latency disadvantage, and ultimately facing increased costs in reaching consumers at the necessary speeds to competitively thrive.
Protecting Net Neutrality in Maryland
- Only allow ISPs that adhere to net neutrality rules to bid on state contracts: Like requirements on other utility firms to use clean energy, this solution forces ISPs to adhere to a higher standard of consumer protection. I will use an executive order on my first day to immediately protect Marylanders’ right to a free and open internet by enacting this policy for all of state government. Further, I will encourage county governments, municipalities, academic institutions, businesses, and households to join our procurement efforts, which would both help expand our efforts to protect net neutrality and drive down prices by aggregating our purchasing power.
- Tax ISPs who do not adhere to net neutrality rules: These funds will be used to pay for expanded access to broadband services in underserved areas.
- Protect Maryland consumers by strengthening transparency requirements: Clearly define state-level transparency standards for internet service providers in how they share and communicate their paid prioritization, blocking, and throttling practices to consumers.
- Advocate for small and medium-sized businesses: Ensure agencies have the resources they need to support local small and medium-sized businesses that might now face prohibitive costs in reaching their consumers online.
- Support schools and institutions of higher education: Work with all educational institutions to ensure that all students do not lose access to educational resources and research content.
- Take action against anti-trust violations: Fully exercise state oversight powers in order to prevent the collapse of the remaining competitive space between ISPs and internet companies. Clearly define standards and monitor anti-competitive paid prioritization.
- Update consumer protection rules for the digital age: Work with Maryland consumer protection bodies to audit existing policies and practices in order to ensure that Maryland state government is effectively protecting consumer rights online.
I believe that the battle for an open internet that works for everyone is much broader than net neutrality. Internet access and skills are still a concern for many Maryland communities. Algorithmic bias and online harassment undermine equal access and unfettered participation online. Increasing surveillance and monitoring threaten consumer privacy. These are complicated social and regulatory issues that demand informed solutions and public debate. We need elected officials capable of providing leadership on these topics and keeping Maryland at the cutting edge of modern technological opportunities and threats.
Expanding Broadband Access
We can expand internet access to families in Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and every part of our State, while simultaneously lowering costs for all working families. It is time Marylanders had a governor who’s on their side when it comes to digital rights and universal, high-speed broadband access.
I view all issues of internet access as inextricably linked. There are parts of our state where more than 1 in 5 residents do not have access to high-speed internet and already too many families and businesses find broadband services to be prohibitively expensive. Working together with ISPs, local government, the Maryland Broadband Cooperative, and certain federal partners, the State of Maryland can take action to provide better last-mile services to the every single Marylander. When speaking with community leaders around the state, I hear too many stories of kids sitting outside libraries until late at night to use the Wi-Fi. The internet is a necessity of modern life and my administration will guarantee affordable internet access for all our state’s residents.
To achieve this goal, we will:
- Provide 1-1 match funding to internet service providers willing to expand their coverage offerings to underserved areas. This public-private partnership builds on existing infrastructure and offers an immediate step towards achieving universal coverage. Maryland is currently the 8th most connected state in the U.S. We need to leverage this existing infrastructure to grow the state’s economy and create 21st century jobs beyond the D.C. – Baltimore corridor.
- Implement the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless, and Cellular Service’s forthcoming recommendations. Led by Delegate Carol Krimm (D-District 3A), the task force is engaged in the important work of reviewing, mapping, and reducing obstacles to expanded internet access in Maryland. I commit to fully implementing the recommendations outlined in their final report, including adjustments to the organizational structure of the state government, reductions to the regulatory burden, improved research and mapping tools, and investments in critical infrastructure.
- Bolster support for broadband cooperatives, where networks of small business owners, educational institutions and communities band together to collectively bargain with service providers. I will not allow providers to lobby the legislature to prevent cooperatives from bargaining for cheaper internet.
- Provide “public internet” in extremely underserved urban and rural areas – which is essentially publically run high-speed broadband that operates similar to a state-run public healthcare option in the marketplace. This follows the model successfully outlined by cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Even outside of underserved areas, most Marylanders only have 1-2 options for internet; this imbalance gives companies, like Comcast, de facto monopoly power over huge numbers of consumers. We must regulate ISPs the way we treat utility providers like water and electricity, so working families can plan their budgets around consistent rates.
Ensuring every Maryland resident has access to high-speed internet will cost around $90 million, but the economic activity generated by internet access will more than pay for any upfront expenditures. Further, I will leverage my federal expertise to work with the Rural Broadband Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, the Appalachia Regional Commission, and other federal partners to defray the costs to the state and local communities.