Net neutrality bill, aimed at protecting small business innovation, dies in subcommittee

Net neutrality is an issue that extends far beyond Tennessee, but could have major implications for Tennessee business owners. Under current state laws, there are no net neutrality rules.

With net neutrality rules, major broadband internet providers like Comcast Xfinity and AT&T are classified as “common carriers.” The distinction means internet service providers must treat all internet content and data equally — “net neutrality.”

Functionally, net neutrality means that internet providers are not allowed to block websites they don’t like or are owned by a competitor. They also cannot charge more to subscribers for using data hogs like YouTube and Netflix over Twitter or local news sites.

For small business owners, the most important net neutrality protection may be that common carrier internet providers would be prohibited from giving preferential treatment — like faster speed — to one website over another. Think: and, who might be willing to pay a premium for internet speed, versus your online craft supply shop.

While there are currently no net neutrality rules in place in Tennessee, it’s unclear whether large internet providers will or have begun making changes to boost profits.

To ensure Tennessee small business owners and consumers would always have access to a fair, equal internet content, Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, District 55, introduced the Tennessee Neutrality and Internet Consumer Protection Act.

Unfortunately, the proposal, HB 1060, died this week in the Utilities Subcommittee. You can watch the full debate here.

According to campaign contributions, AT&T gave $81,500 to 86 members of the Tennessee General Assembly in 2018, including five of the seven members of the Utilities Subcommittee. In 2018, Comcast gave $50,850 to 50 members of the General Assembly, including six of the seven members of the Utilities Subcommittee.

How they voted: Utilities Subcommittee, March 13;
On a voice vote, Nays prevailed. Representatives voting no:
Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, District 62
Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon, District 46
Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, District 32
Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, District 3
Rep. Jerome Moon, R-Maryville, District 8

Representatives in support of the bill:
Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, District 87
Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, District 53