House Bill (HB) 5 — which would create a Broadband Expansion Office tasked with awarding federal money to contractors who agree to expand internet access to underserved areas — passed unanimously in each chamber. But the House tacked on an amendment to prioritize contracts for companies that agree to add a pornography filter to their services.
Offered by Rep. Jeff Cason (R-Bedford), the amendment reads, “The office shall … prioritize an applicant that the broadband provided by the applicant will maintain a program to, by default, block access to pornographic or other obscene materials.”
But that language was stripped in the Senate’s adopted version.
Being the most substantive difference between the two versions, the pornography filter language will be the focus of the conference committee debate.
“It’s been made clear to me that this bill is in conference because the Senate decided to strip the default porn filter from the bill,” Cason told The Texan.
“I am very grateful that Representative Ashby is fighting for the House version and am hopeful that the Senate will realize that our children can be protected with this constitutional regulation of pornography.”
Those in support of the language say it’s a reasonable and necessary precaution to prevent children from accessing online pornography.
Terry Schilling with the American Principles Project (APP) likened the web filter to a basic cable package not including adult content streams in its default package. The pornographic channels must be sought out and accessed separately.
“We have physical protections in the real world. We don’t let children go to physical porn shops or porn theaters, but somehow or another, when the internet came about a different standard was applied,” Schilling told The Texan.
And whereas with the physical porn shops consumers must seek them out, Schilling said the online vendors find their way to the consumer. “With the rise of 4G and 5G, children now have entire porn theaters in their pockets, on their smartphones.”
Those opposite of Schilling cite the first amendment, saying the government doesn’t have a right to restrict what internet consumers can access. In the landmark 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case Reno v. ACLU, the court held that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 — a similarly aimed law to Cason’s language, but far more comprehensive — violated the first amendment because it failed to clearly define “indecent communications” or otherwise narrowly tailor its restrictions.
Schilling and the APP have been urging Nichols’ and Ashby’s constituents to call their respective offices and advocate on behalf of the pornography filter language. In one week, Schilling said they coordinated 500 calls into Nichols’ office and 200 into Ashby’s.
Not only is the broadband legislation overall a priority in both chambers, but it’s on Governor Greg Abbott’s list of emergency items for the legislative session.
Neither Sen. Nichols nor Rep. Ashby returned a request for comment on this story by the time of publishing.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.