Johnson County rep looks to protect net neutrality at state level after FCC repeals federal rules

Rep. Brett Parker at a candidate forum in 2016.

Saying that a level-playing field for access to internet bandwidth fosters innovation and would help new businesses grow, a Shawnee Mission area legislator has pushed an effort to support the concept of network neutrality in Kansas.

District 29 Rep. Brett Parker, a Democrat, introduced HB 2682 last week. The bill would prohibit the state government from entering into contracts with internet service providers who do not follow net neutrality standards, which ensure that users won’t have their access to certain sites slowed down. Parker based the measure on the language used in an executive order signed by Montana’s governor after the FCC repealed federal net neutrality rules last year.

But Parker has not been able to get a hearing on the bill in a committee, and an attempt to add it as an amendment to another bill on the floor of the House last week failed on a roll call vote 43-78.

Overland Park Rep. Stephanie Clayton co-sponsored the measure, and voted in favor of the amendment. Fairway Rep. Melissa Rooker was among those to vote against the introduction of the measure as an amendment, saying that it needed to go through the committee process before being considered by the full House.

The House did refer to the idea to the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications, but Parker doesn’t have high hopes that committee chair Rep. Joe Seiwert of Pretty Prairie will work the bill. With Turnaround Day, the last day that the legislature considers most new bills, set for next week, the procedural options to move the idea forward this session look limited.

Parker argues that net neutrality is key to an entrepreneurial environment, and that maintaining a free-and-open internet would be beneficial to Johnson County startups.

“This is an idea that is pro-consumer freedom, and a critical policy for innovation and start ups,” he said. “The worry is that a small business just getting started can essentially be forced out of the market by people who can afford to pay for priority. And for consumers net neutrality means you have access to information without discrimination based on what you want to access.”