City leaders are getting serious about protecting the open internet.
Weeks after Mayor Ron Nirenberg signed a national pledge to honor net neutrality principles, Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) filed a council consideration request Tuesday for the San Antonio City Council to consider putting teeth behind the measure with a formal citywide policy.
“Cities have come to rely on an open internet in order to thrive,” Pelaez said. “That includes being able to hunt for jobs, look for housing, and access resources that improve health care and education options."
Mayors Bill de Blasio of New York, Steve Adler of Austin, and Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon, announced at a South by Southwest event last month that the mayors of 12 U.S. cities, including Nirenberg, have signed the Cities Open Internet Pledge. That number has since grown to 23 cities.
Net neutrality, or the open internet, is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) should not block, throttle, or prioritize certain internet content. Because many ISPs are owned by larger communications conglomerates that also create content, there is fear that companies will favor content created by those within its umbrella and restrict access to competitors’ content. The FCC adopted open internet rules in February 2015 and repealed them in December 2017.
Pelaez requested last month to bring the item "at the earliest possible date" before the council's Governance Committee, which proposes, reviews, and refers new policy initiatives to staff or other council committees for action.
Erin Nichols, a spokeswoman for Pelaez, said the councilman intends for staff to draft an ordinance based on the net neutrality principles in the pledge.
The pledge calls on cities to support the maintenance of an open internet by doing business with ISPs – such as Spectrum, AT&T, Grande, and Google Fiber locally – that honor net neutrality practices.
It also contains five other imperatives for cities committing to open-internet practices, including to ensure an open-internet connection in any free public Wi-Fi or municipally provided internet, require notice of anti-net neutrality practices and levy penalties against providers that engage in them, and monitor ISPs so that consumers know which companies are violating open-internet principles.
Pelaez, who chairs the council’s new Innovation and Technology Committee, said high-speed and open access to the internet is a public necessity.
"In the absence of net neutrality, ISPs are able to create tiered services that will make it increasingly difficult for those who cannot afford or lack access to the internet, further increasing the digital divide in our city," he said.
Cities such as San Antonio — with its concentrated pockets of broadband infrastructure — have disparate levels of internet access and knowledge among its residents that many refer to as a digital divide.
Pelaez said formalizing Nirenberg's pledge as a city ordinance is the next step to protecting an open internet locally.