Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Alaska State Senate
State Capitol
Juneau, AK 99801
Re: Saving the Open Internet: ACLU of Alaska Support for SB 160
Dear Chair Costello and Members of the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee:
Given the explosive growth of the internet and the importance of the role in our everyday lives, protecting users from censorship is a critical free speech issue. And Alaska needs this protection more than any other state. In our state, we rely on fast, reliable, content-neutral internet for our businesses, for our schools, and to provide telemedicine to our remote villages.
The ACLU has been a long-time defender of the First Amendment and, for two decades, has been a principal participant in nearly all the U.S. Supreme Court’s internet censorship and neutrality cases. The ACLU, in Reno v. ACLU, convinced the Court to strike down the speech-suppressive Communications Decency Act: the Court agreed with the ACLU that the government cannot engage in blanket censorship of speech in cyberspace. And we argued in Brand X, one of the forerunning cases to today’s net neutrality debate, that letting cable companies completely control their customers’ access to the internet threatened Americans’ free speech and privacy.
We all use the telephone and none of us worry that if we call a particular person or talk about a certain subject, the telephone company will make our connection choppy or add delays to our conversation. But, when it comes to using the internet, this is exactly what the removal of net neutrality rules would permit.
These are not hypothetical concerns; they’ve already happened. Without net neutrality rules in the United States and elsewhere, we have seen content slowed and blocked based upon the political views and business interests of ISP companies:
  • AT&T censored a live Pearl Jam concert stream in response to criticisms of President George W. Bush by the band’s lead singer Eddie Vedder;
  • Verizon blocked text messages from the pro-choice advocacy group NARAL because Verizon deemed them to be “controversial”;
  • Telus, a Canadian Telecom company, blocked the website of a union with which it was engaged in a labor dispute;
  • AT&T limited its customers’ use of FaceTime to coerce them into buying more expensive data plans;
  • AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon all blocked mobile wallet applications, like Google Wallet, that competed with their own mobile wallet application.

Some claim that without net neutrality, competition between internet service providers and telecom companies will root out this kind of nefarious behavior. But this hope is misplaced; you can’t have competition without a competitive market. Most Americans, and particularly here in Alaska, don’t have a choice between their network provider: it is, at best, an oligopoly, and at worst, a monopoly. The costs to build high-speed broadband service are so great, so there is very little competition, which is exactly why so many Alaskans have only one possible network provider to choose from. And manipulations of data are not always easy to detect. Content can be delayed or distorted in important but subtle ways. Without these safeguards, Alaskans will be left without recourse.

As of today, thirty states across the nation have introduced or are nearing introducing bills that would restore net neutrality protections in their states. By passing SB 160, Alaska will join a national chorus of states and bipartisan groups of internet users to announce that the elimination of net neutrality rules is unacceptable.
Tara A. Rich
Legal & Policy Director