Governors of Montana, New York order states to only contract with telecom providers who uphold net neutrality

The governors of Montana and New York this week signed executive orders aimed at preserving so-called “net neutrality” by declaring that telecommunications providers with state contracts must abide by net neutrality principles.

The Title II regulation of internet services was lifted in mid-December by the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission in a party-line vote. Llawsuits were filed last week by around 20 state attorneys general, as well as public interest groups, to fight the end of net neutrality. But as those legal proceedings get underway, governors are staking out their own positions through executive orders.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock signed his order on Monday, followed quickly by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York. Such executive orders attempt to circumvent the FCC’s order that states are not allowed to make their own laws regarding net neutrality — so they could presumably run into legal challenges of their own.

“There has been a lot of talk around the country about how to respond to the recent decision by Federal Communications Commission to repeal net neutrality rules, which keep the internet free and open,” said Bullock. “It’s time to actually do something about it. This is a simple step states can take to preserve and protect net neutrality. We can’t wait for folks in Washington DC to come to their senses and reinstate these rules.”

Bullock went on to add that “when the FCC repealed its net neutrality rules, it said consumers should choose. The state of Montana is one of the biggest consumers of internet services in our state. Today we’re making our choice clear: we want net neutrality.”

The executive order itself notes that the state “has a distributed data storage model and thousands of employees across the state–paid prioritization and throttling could fundamentally impact state employees’ ability to conduct business” and goes on to say that since many state government servicse are exclusively online, “throttling and paid prioritization could limit Montana citizens’ ability to receive government services and dramatically deepen the ‘digital divide’ as well as exacerbate challenges our poorest citizens have in accessing government help.”

The order says that in order to receive or renew a contract after July 2018, a telecom provider must not block lawful and non-harmful content or devices or engage in paid prioritization.

According to The New York Times, telcom companies including Verizon, AT&T, Charter and CenturyLink all hold government contracts in Montana.

Bullock’s action was followed quickly by a similar executive order from Gov. Cuomo, issued yesterday. That executive order doesn’t mention paid prioritization specifically, but says in part that state agencies may “only enter into contracts with ISPs that adhere to net neutrality principles and to ensure that internet services provided to [state agencies]include net neutrality protections, and specifically state that ISPs may not block lawful content, applications, services, non-harmful devices, or applications that compete with other services provided by the ISP.”

The jockeying by governors comes as AT&T this week took out ads in national publications asking for a net neutrality law.

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