May 16, 2018

Ahead of Key Vote, Hirono Highlights Importance of Net Neutrality to Local Media

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ahead of the successful Senate vote to restore net neutrality rules, Senator Mazie K. Hirono emphasized the importance of a free and open internet to local media. Senator Hirono highlighted how the Trump administration’s plan to undermine net neutrality protections could make it more difficult and expensive for local news outlets to disseminate information. The resolution to restore Obama-era net neutrality rules passed the Senate 52-47.

“During the flooding on Kauai and Oahu – and the ongoing volcanic activity on Hawaii Island – local news providers have been a critical lifeline for local residents in search of timely, accurate, and understandable information,” Senator Hirono said. “The response of these local news outlets to natural disasters in Hawaii demonstrates why they are so important to the communities they serve. And these news outlets depend on a free and open internet to deliver their content to consumers when and where they need it.”

Senator Hirono’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, protecting a free and open internet is something every American should care about.

Restoring net neutrality protections is about more than just what shows you can watch on Netflix and Hulu. 

We depend on the internet for nearly everything in our lives – from staying in touch with loved ones on social media, to communicating with doctors and paying our bills.

It’s also about preserving access to information in times of need.

Over the past month, Hawaii residents have depended on the internet to access lifesaving information and to communicate with their friends and family during a series of devastating natural disasters.

On April 15-16, nearly 50 inches of rain fell in Hanalei on the North Shore of Kauai – setting the record for the largest rainfall in a 24 hour period in American history. This storm destroyed many homes, triggered mudslides that closed Kuhio Highway, and damaged local businesses. That same storm also caused widespread flooding and property damage in East Oahu.

And in an event that has drawn international attention, volcanic activity on Hawaii Island – including fissures along the Kilauea East Rift Zone, around 100 earthquakes per day, lava eruptions, and significant ash fall events -- has already destroyed 40 structures in the Puna community. More than 2,000 residents have been evacuated as the lava continues to flow and toxic sulfur dioxide pollutes the air.

Residents on Kauai, Oahu, and the Big Island have depended on a free and open internet to receive up to the minute, and lifesaving information from local media – as well as from federal, state, and local governments. 

Rules on net neutrality established by the Obama administration prevented Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from discriminating against and blocking content. These essential protections helped to ensure a level playing field for all content providers and consumers.

But under the leadership of Donald Trump’s hand-picked chairman, the Federal Communications Commission issued an order late last year that would completely eviscerate net neutrality protections. 

Internet Service Providers looking to maximize profits should not be able to restrict access to information or slow speeds for providers unable to pay more – particularly during a natural disaster or other emergency. 

During the flooding on Kauai and Oahu – and the ongoing volcanic activity on Hawaii Island – local news providers have been a critical lifeline for local residents in search of timely, accurate, and understandable information.

Traditional newspapers like the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the Garden Island, and the Hawaii Tribune Herald – as well as online news sources like Honolulu Civil Beat, Big Island Now, and Big Island Video News – have provided an essential service to the public.

Through their websites and social media channels, these news sources have provided detailed reporting about the precise location of hazardous conditions, where evacuees can find shelter and essential services, and where the public can make donations of clothing and non-perishable food.

Television stations like Hawaii News Now, KITV, and KHON have also used their websites and social media platforms to livestream news reports that have been a critical lifeline for local residents and for their families and friends.

National and international journalists have also drawn on the work of local Hawaii journalists to report their stories to a national and international audience. The good work of journalists at Hawaii News Now, KITV, and Anthony Quintano at Civil Beat, for example, is being seen by people across the country and around the world on CNN and NBC News – among others.

The response of these local news outlets to natural disasters in Hawaii demonstrates why they are so important to the communities they serve. 

And these news outlets depend on a free and open internet to deliver their content to consumers when and where they need it.

For an industry already facing a funding crisis driven by declining advertising revenue, the roll back of net neutrality could have a devastating impact on local news. 

A 2017 report by Adam Hersh at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University cogently summarizes what’s at stake.

According to his report, local news sources would be particularly hard hit if ISPs could charge access fees, block traffic from certain providers, throttle speeds, and charge fast lane fees in exchange for preferential treatment. 

Huge media conglomerates would have little trouble paying for access – but local papers like the Star Advertiser and non-profit news sources like Civil Beat could be hard hit or even driven out of business.

In addition to the impact on local news providers, repealing net neutrality could make it more difficult and expensive for relief organizations to solicit donations for people affected by natural disasters.

The Puuhonua o Puna Community Center, for example, is using social media to organize a community and statewide relief response to help families affected by volcanic activity.

Using their online platform the Center is coordinating donations, identifying families requiring special assistance, and connecting evacuated residents with people who can help.

Eliminating net neutrality would also have a negative impact on small businesses in Hawaii – including those hit hard by recent natural disasters and affected by decreased visitor access. Like the local news, small businesses depend on high speed and high quality internet to reach their customers and grow their business. They don’t have the resources to compete in a pay to play system on the internet.

It’s because of stories like these that a bipartisan group of Senators is forcing a vote to save net neutrality.

An Internet Service Provider should not be able to restrict access, especially during a major disaster so that they can make more money.

I encourage all of my colleagues to join this efforts and pass this resolution today. 

I yield the floor. 

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