If internet service providers in New York and Montana want state contracts, they will have to uphold “net neutrality” for consumers—including schools—say both states’ governors.
Whether those executive actions hold up legally remains to be seen.
An intensely debated order issued last month by the Federal Communications Commission, which effectively dismantled net neutrality, included language pre-empting actions by state and local jurisidictions that contradict the federal policies.
Net neutrality is the principle that internet traffic should not be throttled or blocked from various sources, and that ISPs should not engage in “paid prioritization” of content from different sources or create fast or slow lanes for that content.
During the Obama admnistration, Democrats on the FCC approved a policy designed to protect net neutrality.
But in December, a Republican-led majority on the commission overturned that order, arguing that it was regulatory overkill that stymies business innovation.
In an interview with Education Week Wednesday, Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel expressed support for the actions by the two governors, as well as related attempts by state legislators and members of Congress to challenge the FCC’s recent action.
“I’m glad to see states and governors and others pick up the pieces and try to fix what I think the FCC broke,” Rosenworcel said. “The momentum they are creating is really important.”
Net Neutrality and Schools
Some school and library officials worry that the new FCC policy will impede the flow of online content to K-12 systems. Others have worried that it could hurt smaller businesses with few resources that rely on low-cost delivery of internet content to schools.
In their executive orders, both Cuomo and Bullock specifically cite a desire to protect school content as one of the justifications for their executive orders.
“New York students rely on a free and open internet to learn and access information far beyond their physical reach,” Cuomo’s order says.
Bullock’s order says that his state’s educational institutions rely on net neutrality “to provide Montanans with world-class educational opportunities.”
New York’s order says that the order applies to not only public departments over which Cuomo has authority, but also “public-benefit corporations, public authorities, and commisions,” for which the governor makes appointments.
The state of Montana does business with all the major wired carriers that operate in Montana, such as CenturyLink, said Ronja Abel, communications director for Gov. Bullock, in an e-mail. It also does business with most of the wireless carriers who work in the state, such as AT&T and Verizon.
The cumulative value of the state’s contract with ISPs is about $50 million, she said.
Most K-12 schools rely on the same ISPs that the state does, such as Charter Spectrum and CenturyLink, Abel added. So the executive order has the effect of compelling those carriers to abide by net neutrality rules, she said, which is ultimately “a good thing for the K-12 community.”
State resistance to the FCC’s order is playing out on several fronts. Lawmakers in a number of states have introduced legislation seeking to preserve net neutrality, and last week, attorneys general from more than 20 states went to federal court to try to block the FCC’s recent order.
Rosenworcel said Wednesday she believes most ISPs will not change their policies in the short term in ways that disrupt schools’ online access.
But in the longer term, ISP behavior is something to watch closely, she said.
Photo: Montana Governor Steve Bullock speaks before a U.S. Senate committee in September, 2017. --Jose Luis Magana/AP-File
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.