The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for cities and towns to ensure net neutrality and broadband privacy by building their own networks.
"Internet service is necessary for engaging meaningfully with society: to become educated, to participate in political and professional communities, and to seek help and companionship from those with similar interests or problems," the civil rights group says in a new report, "The Public Internet Option," released Thursday. "Most importantly, perhaps, it is the primary medium for exercising our constitutionally protected rights to seek and share information."
The report comes after national net neutrality rules, as well as privacy rules, were revoked. Three months ago, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules that prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling online traffic and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery. And last year, Congress repealed broadband privacy rules that required carriers to obtain users' opt-in consent before drawing on their web-browsing data for ad targeting.
The ACLU argues that local governments should now effectively restore those rules by building municipal networks.
"Nothing the FCC has done prevents a city, county, or town from directing its own, municipally run service to honor strong network neutrality and privacy policies," the group writes. "If the commercial providers are determined to make money by violating the privacy and speech rights of their users, and if some policymakers in Washington are determined to clear the way for them to do that -- then states, cities, towns, and counties should take matters into their own hands by creating publicly owned services that do honor those values."
Although no federal laws prevent muni-broadband, around 20 states currently restrict towns from creating their own networks. The FCC attempted to invalidate those restrictions, but an appellate court ruled that the agency lacked the authority to do so.