New York to Internet Providers: Follow Net Neutrality Rules or Lose State Contracts

by | January 25, 2018

By Rick Karlin

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday issued an executive order intended to strengthen net neutrality in New York by prohibiting state government contracts with internet companies that do not honor the rules that were unraveled last month by the Federal Communications Commission.

"The FCC's dangerous ruling goes against the core values of our democracy, and New York will do everything in our power to protect net neutrality and the free exchange of ideas," Cuomo said in a prepared statement accompanying the order.

The FCC voided rules that had prevented internet service providers from changing the speed of their delivery of content based on pricing and other factors. Cuomo's order said the free exchange of information through what many view as an essential service -- the internet -- prompted the need for immediate intervention.

Cuomo's order said the FCC's decision to reverse its Obama-era rules was done to "satisfy corporate interests that are not aligned with those of New Yorkers."

The governor cited factors ranging from the need for state businesses to competitively reach new markets to students having access to instructional tools.

Cuomo is the second governor nationally to issue such an order, which is a clear rebuke to the Trump administration's move toward deregulation.

On Monday, Montana's Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock put out a similar order. Like Cuomo, Bullock has been cited by political observers as a potential presidential candidate.

The governor's order also comes a day after two state lawmakers, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany and Sen. David Carlucci, D-Rockland, who is a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, proposed similar legislation.

"I'm pleased he's going to go forward with it," Fahy said shortly after learning that the executive order had been issued.

Noting that she and Carlucci had the bill proposal in place for more than a month, Fahy said they would likely continue to push it forward, since a bill passage would codify the executive order in law.

Cuomo didn't mention Fahy or Carlucci in announcing the executive order.

Lawmakers in 15 states are considering similar legislation. And almost two dozen Democratic attorneys general have gone to court to try and overturn the FCC.

In December, the Republican-controlled FCC voted to overturn net neutrality rules which were put in place in 2015 under then-President Barack Obama. The FCC had first adopted net neutrality rules in 2010, but a federal appeals court struck down the rules in 2014 based on a lawsuit filed by Verizon. The rules were retooled and adopted by the FCC again in 2015, and a federal court last year upheld net neutrality, saying an open internet is essential, according to White House records.

The rules rolled back last month prevented internet service providers, often large national cable or telecom firms like Spectrum, Verizon, or Comcast, from speeding up connection speeds for websites they favor or slowing or even blocking other sites.

The deregulation prompted an outcry from many who develop content for the internet, ranging from commercial websites to those who put streaming video online. Opponents of deregulation feared the move could make it difficult for new and relatively smaller content providers to become established, if they faced slower connection speeds or higher prices for more bandwidth. There are also fears that new fees could be passed on to consumers, including offering faster speeds for those who pay more.

Supporters of deregulation, though, said the move would spark more innovation by spurring investment in broadband technology.

And several said they don't plan to slow or block access to websites.

"We don't slow down, block, or discriminate against lawful content," Spectrum spokesman  Andrew Russell said in an email. "Simply put, we don't interfere with the lawful online practices of our customers and we have no plans to change our practices."

Large national telecom firms also say that state-by-state rules could create an unworkable patchwork for providers whose networks cross state lines.

One major telecom provider, AT&T, on Wednesday took out newspaper ads calling for Congress to step in and devise regulations in order to avoid the state-by-state confusion.

New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer recently said his conference was one vote away from the 51 that would be needed to restore the net neutrality rules. All 49 Democrats along with Republican Susan Collins of Maine have said they favor that idea. But a 51st vote is still needed and that remained unchanged on Wednesday.

Additionally, there was no indication that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives was pushing to restore net neutrality.

Either way, net neutrality is viewed as a potent political issue especially among younger voters who see any potential slowdowns or limitations on the web as a violation of basic freedoms.

(c)2018 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)