Net neutrality fight moves to State level

States are taking it on themselves to attempt to change federal moves which may limit net neutrality.
2 April 2018

Net neutrality ensures all internet traffic receives equal prioritisation. Source: Shutterstock

States are taking up the mantle of net neutrality by passing governances of various flavors which attempt to limit or hinder Ajit Pai’s repeal of net neutrality rules.

At the time of writing, 27 states had taken action to protect net neutrality. Edicts range from state-level rules which ban anti-competitive behavior in the ISP marketplace, to executive orders which prevent state bodies commissioning services from ISPs which exhibit anti-net neutral business practices.

Vermont has approved new rules via executive order which prohibits ISPs from securing state contracts if they have engaged in traffic prioritization, throttling or blocking access to specific websites on the basis of payments received.

The difficulties facing local legislatures are many, some of which emanate from the fact that ISPs should be able to prioritize traffic if required – for instance, medically-critical data. The leeway granted could be exploited monetarily by unscrupulous ISPs, it is feared.

The noteworthy phrase in the above instances tends to be along the lines of “reasonable network management,” interpretation of which remains relatively open, primarily to influence from well-paid lobbyists. Any rule is, of course, only as good as the authorities’ willingness to enforce it.

Lobbying the FCC continues, but some believe, like Montana Governor Steve Bullock, that executive orders fall outside of FCC jurisdiction:

Through the order, the State of Montana acts as a consumer — not a regulator. Because there’s no mandate, and no new regulations, there’s certainly no federal preemption. Companies that don’t like Montana’s proposed contract terms don’t have to do business with the State.

It would be easy to cast state authorities into the role of the protector of individual small businesses and the consumer. But ISPs have been successful in the past in influencing local lawmakers to pass statutes that effectively limit competition to only favored ISPs such as AT&T and Comcast, to the detriment of smaller service providers.

Any position taken by a lobbying concern or individual politician to support or criticise states’ rights is as changeable as the weather – and it’s consumers’ and SMEs’ rights, choices and data speeds which suffer, in many cases.

FCC boss Ajit Pai is the subject of a raft of litigation, ranging from a lawsuit brought by 22 State Attorney Generals, to others filed by consumer groups, smaller ISPs, and community activists.

Whether or not any of the thrown mud sticks to Pai is moot; even modest federal protection for net neutrality seems hard to come by, these days.