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Legislation introduced to ensure net neutrality in Puerto Rico

By on January 30, 2018

SAN JUAN – Popular Democratic Party minority (PDP) Rep. Luis Vega Ramos and  New Progressive Party majority Rep. Luis Pérez Ortiz (NPP) introduced bipartisan legislation Tuesday to ensure what they called people’s right to internet neutrality in light of the Federal Communications Commission’s determination to eliminate its federal protection.

Network neutrality is the principle that the cost of internet access should not depend on the nature of the content accessed and should be treated similar to a public utility. Those who are in favor of varying the price for access to different types of content, believe neutrality discourages innovation and investment.

“After the nefarious decision of the Trump administration’s decision to eliminate protection in terms of neutral and equitable access to online networks for citizens, it is vital that Puerto Rico joins the growing number of jurisdictions that are preserving this access via state legislation and declare it a right of every citizen,” Vega Ramos said in a written statement.

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He explained that House Bill 1427 aims to establish the right of every citizen residing in Puerto Rico to net neutrality through public policy that preserves the free flow of information and content and that limits marketing practices that create packages for the use of certain applications, information or data flow by companies that provide telecommunications and broadband services on the island.

The bill would amend subsection (f) of Article 7 of Chapter II and section (s) of Article 4, Chapter III of Act 213 of Sept. 12, 1996, as amended, known as the Telecommunications Act of Puerto Rico of 1996, to give the Telecommunications Regulatory Board the responsibility to ensure “the protection of this right.”

Vega Ramos emphasized that the legislation is not only important for its economic factors with regard to internet service customers, but also because the internet “has become an essential guarantee to freedom of speech” and access to information.

“In the computer age, neutral access without unreasonable restrictions of content or cost is an essential and contemporary part of human rights to freedom of speech and access to information. The internet has become [the preeminent] public forum for citizens to express themselves; it is the modern press or radio or TV waves where we look for news; it is the giant library where our children and youth find information to educate themselves.

“Not ensuring free and neutral access to computer networks threatens the fundamental rights of the people. That is why I am thankful to my colleague Pérez Ortiz for joining this initiative to then establish its bipartisan character,” he added.

Pérez Ortiz authored Concurrent House Resolution 58, which was unanimously approved recently by the House and which condemns the FCC’s decision to “put an end to net neutrality in the United States and its nefarious consequences for users in Puerto Rico.”

In addition to concerns about limiting the fundamental rights to freedom of speech, association and access to information, the legislators warned that if the bill is not approved it would open the door for internet companies to artificially segregate access to different services, portals or applications to charge additional fees to allow access. Thus, the bill establishes neutral network access as a right.

Currently, jurisdictions such as Massachusetts, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Washington have introduced legislation to counteract the approved elimination of net neutrality. New York and California are expected to file similar legislation. Other stateside jurisdictions have begun other efforts to neutralize the reach of the FCC’s determination. The preservation of net neutrality has begun a legislative and legal battle throughout the United States and the world.

The legislators were optimistic about the quick approval of the measure. “With this bill, we would put ourselves at the forefront globally in defense of this new citizens’ right,” Vega Ramos concluded.

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