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Texas Bill Aims To Stop Companies From 'Throttling' Internet Service During Disasters

The Texas House of Representatives convenes on the second day of the 2019 legislative session last month.
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
The Texas House of Representatives convenes on the second day of the 2019 legislative session last month.

A bill in the Texas House of Representatives would make it a crime for telecommunications companies to impair mobile internet service in declared disaster areas. It comes after firefighters in California had their data plans “throttled” by Verizon during wildfires there.

When the Federal Communications Commission ended net neutrality, it essentially allowed internet providers to throttle, or block access, to certain internet services or websites. HB 1426 joins  more than 100 other bills introduced in state legislatures around the country aimed at protecting internet access.

The FCC vote raised broader concerns over who should have control of internet access. But it also came as more and more first responders are using online platforms and apps.

“The fact that this is now bubbling up at the state level is a good sign," said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, a group that wants net neutrality reinstated. "But in reality, we need the FCC to actually do its job and ensure that these companies aren’t acting in ways that put the public in danger."

That's a sentiment shared by former FCC Commissioner Gigi Sohn, who recently told The Hill the FCC had “abdicated” its public safety role.

Verizon suggested first responders in California  buy an upgraded internet plan after they complained about slow service during the wildfires. Santa Clara County sued the company as a result.

HB 1426 was filed by Edinburg Democratic State Rep. Bobby Guerra. He was not available for comment.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit .

Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for KUT's NPR partnership StateImpact Texas . He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.