New York joins states boosting net neutrality after FCC rollback

January 26, 2018 GMT

New York has joined a growing roster of states pledging to use their buying power to force broadband companies to honor the spirit of net neutrality.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week signed an executive order barring state agencies from doing business with internet providers that block rivals’ web traffic or charge more for faster service. The move follows a similar order this week from Montana’s Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

“The states are stepping up,” said Gigi Sohn, a fellow at the Open Society Foundations and former Federal Communications Commission aide who helped write the net neutrality rules that the agency gutted in December. “There’s a void, and the states want to fill it.”


The FCC, in rescinding the Obama-era open web rules last month, included a clause aimed at preventing states from adopting their own standards.

But some advocates believe the use of state contracts as leverage will withstand legal challenges - and might pressure internet service providers such as AT&T and Verizon Communications to keep honoring the former rules.

The broadband companies have pledged not to block or slow traffic notwithstanding the absence of the rules, which they said gave the FCC too much power.

Proposals using a variety of tactics have surfaced in at least 11 states to restore net neutrality principles, said Tim Karr, a spokesman for Free Press, a policy group that favors restoring the net neutrality regulations. Legislatures of Rhode Island and California are considering bills that include procurement restrictions like New York’s. Measures in Massachusetts and Georgia would set state net neutrality rules.

Microsoft has urged lawmakers in its home state of Washington to pass their own net neutrality law. And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to monitor how telecommunications providers serve broadband customers with a “Truth in Broadband” proposal.

“We can’t wait for folks in Washington, D.C., to come to their senses,” Montana’s Bullock said in an emailed release. He invited other jurisdictions to follow suit after he signed his order on Tuesday.

Cuomo’s order requires recipients of state contracts, beginning March 1, to adhere to net neutrality principles of not blocking or slowing web traffic, or demanding payment for faster passage over their networks - the key aspects of the rule voided in a vote led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who was chosen by President Donald Trump.

Telecommunications companies that do business with New York state include AT&T, Verizon and Frontier Communications Corp., according to a list compiled by Cuomo’s office.


Broadband providers reacted with alarm to the prospect of a welter of regulations.

“We simply cannot have 50 different regulations governing our internet - consumers expect and demand a single approach,” Jonathan Spalter, president of USTelecom, a trade group with members including AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink, said in an emailed statement.

Congress has been unable to agree on the topic. Lawmakers appear polarized, with Democrats focused on votes to undo the December repeal and suspicious that Republican proposals would hamstring regulators.