Montana governor demands net neutrality of state telecommunications contractors

Gov. Steve Bullock

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock fired back at the Federal Communications Commission Monday with an executive order demanding that all telecommunications companies doing business with state government abide by net neutrality principles.

His is the first such action by a governor after the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality, allowing companies to throttle and prioritize internet services.

Bullock signed the three-page order while visiting a computer science classroom at Helena High School, his alma mater.

Bullock told the students: “For as long as you, or I, or anyone in this room has used the internet, we’ve had certain expectations about how things work. We’ve had access to a free and open internet. But a free and open internet is no longer guaranteed. The loss of internet neutrality principles threatens the future of the students standing in this very room.”

In December, the FCC repealed the nation’s net neutrality regulations, which barred internet service providers from creating virtual fast and slow lanes for different web sites and services.

Since its inception, the Internet has thrived on a single concept: a free and open platform available to all users. There is no censorship, no tampering with download speeds based upon one’s chosen website.

All that changed with the FCC’s decision.

While legislators in at least six states, including New York and California, have introduced bills forbidding internet providers from blocking or slowing sites, Bullock’s action is the first to be enacted by a state since the FCC’s move.

“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. It’s time to actually do something about it,” he said Monday. “This is a simple step states can take to preserve and protect net neutrality. We can’t wait for folks in Washington, D.C., to come to their senses and reinstate these rules.”

Bullock encouraged other governors and statehouses to follow suit.

“To every governor and every legislator in every statehouse across the country, and to every small business and every Fortune 500 company that wants a free and open internet when they buy services: I will personally email this to you,” Bullock said, the executive order in his hand.

The order sets the terms on which the state of Montana will make purchases and makes clear the state’s insistence on a free and open internet. The state is a significant purchaser of internet services.

“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,” Bullock said. “It’s good government, and our citizens who use online services rely on it.

The order states 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,” and that “Montana citizens rely on a free and open internet to meet the world.”

The order directs that to receive a contract from the State of Montana for providing telecommunications services, the service provider must not block lawful content, throttle, impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of internet content, engage in paid prioritization, or unreasonably interfere or disadvantage the users’ ability to select, access, and use broadband internet access service.

Internet service providers in Montana have pledged not to throttle or prioritize services in the wake of the ruling, and have encouraged Congress to codify net neutrality rules.

Last fall, Jason Williams, CEO of Blackfoot Communications in Missoula, said his company would never block or throttle content.

“Blackfoot has never blocked lawful internet traffic or throttled lawful internet traffic,” Williams said. “We support an open and free internet.”

Allie DePuy, co-owner of Inspired Classroom in Missoula, said the FCC’s action enables large corporations to restrict content, withhold knowledge and create a system of monopolies that will stifle small businesses.

“In a state as rural and as large as Montana, equality of access is not only critical, it’s morally imperative,” she said. “All children need the opportunity to access mentors, in-depth learning experiences and current, reliable and unbiased content.”