Jan. 22, 2018, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) signed an executive order requiring internet service providers (ISPs) in the state to observe the standards of net neutrality. Net neutrality is a principle that controls how much freedom ISPs have in deciding how they deliver internet services to their customers. Net neutrality is intended to protect equitable access to internet content and was first introduced into official U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy in 2005. In December 2017, despite significant opposition from the public, companies like Twitter and Facebook, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), national net neutrality laws were repealed by the FCC in a 3-to-2 vote along party lines (with Republicans in favor of the repeal). Montana is now the first state to take the matter into its own hands and create its own net neutrality standards.
ISPs who want to renew or receive new state contracts with Montana will have to agree to its net neutrality standards. In general terms, these companies will not be able to slow down, speed up or block various types of sites and online media or allow content-providers to pay for their material to be sent to viewers more quickly. Montana government (state, county and local) hold about $50 million worth of contracts with ISPs like AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink and Charter.
“If you want to do business with Montana, there are standards on net neutrality you will have to follow … We’re making our choice clear: We want net neutrality … We can’t wait for folks in Washington to come to their senses,” Bullock says. He signed the first executive order of its kind in the company of a high school computer class at his former high school in Helena (pictured above).
The 3-page order starts by stating that, “the free and open exchange of information, secured by a free and open internet, has never been more essential to modern social, commercial and civic life.” It explains that by March 1, 2018, the Department of Administration shall have prepared the appropriate corresponding policies and shall “resolve any dispute over the definition of terminology used in this Executive Order.”
On the morning of January 24, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he had also signed an order protecting net neutrality within his state. “MT, NY - who’s next? #NetNeutrality,” Bullock tweeted in response. The California state legislature is also currently considering a net neutrality bill.
“We simply cannot have 50 different regulations governing our internet,” an unnamed spokeswoman for USTelecom and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association says, in response to the growing possibility of states having their own rules.
In related news, attorneys general from more than 20 states and the District of Columbia have sued to block the FCC repeal. The suit calls the 2017 vote “arbitrary and capricious.” Every Democratic state attorney general in the U.S. has joined this suit.
As of Jan. 15, 50 senators had endorsed a legislative measure to override the FCC repeal – 49 Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. If one more Republican joins on, the group can pass a Senate resolution of disapproval in an attempt to overturn the decision and prohibit any future similar moves by the FCC.