The Federal Communications Commission may have repealed net neutrality back in December 2017, but it certainly isn't stopping states from finding clever ways to get around the highly controversial ruling. Governors from both New York and Montana are bringing net neutrality back by way of executive orders, and some citizens could see the effects as soon as March 2018. After all, the division of state and federal government still has to count for something.
When the FCC repealed net neutrality, it seemed like it would take years (or at least more than just several weeks) for states to put together cases against the ruling. But now, it's clear that they've found an easier solution: executive orders. On Monday, Montana became the first state to make its own rules after Governor Steve Bullock signed an order applying to all internet service providers contracted with the state government. The order prohibits these providers from blocking content, speeding it up, or slowing it down. Essentially, it forces these providers to enforce equal access to all internet content. The order will go into effect on July 1. In other words, internet providers signing contracts after that date will have to abide by the new rules. This will primarily affect state contracted internet providers like Charter, AT&T, and Verizon, according to The New York Times.
As it turns out, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York took Governor Bullock up on his invitation to join Montana in reinstating net neutrality under certain conditions. On Wednesday, Cuomo signed a similar executive order mandating internet service providers with state government contracts to follow net neutrality rules. This executive order, however, will be implemented on March 1 as opposed to July 1.
It's important to note that although these states are enforcing net neutrality rules, they aren't totally overriding the FCC's December repeal. The executive orders, for example, don't apply to internet service providers that aren't contracted with the state government. Providers that work with citizens of those states, but not the government, can still slow down or even block certain content.
And with months remaining before they're implemented, it's possible these executive orders won't make it far enough to actually see the light of day. In November, The Verge noted that the FCC included a section in its repeal proposal specifically blocking states from taking action. Indeed, the draft version of the proposal reads,
We therefore preempt any state or local measures that would effectively impose rules or requirements that we have repealed or decided to refrain from imposing in this order or that would impose more stringent requirements for any aspect of broadband service that we address in this order.
Still, there's hope that power is in numbers. Earlier in January, 50 lawmakers voted to bring net neutrality back, signaling this won't be an issue that slips into the shadows as time passes. Democrats need just one more Republican on-board (Republican Sen. Susan Collins has already given her approval) in order to pass a Senate resolution of disapproval and reinstate net neutrality rules. According to the Chicago Tribune, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer made it clear that Democrats won't give up.
With full caucus support, it's clear that Democrats are committed to fighting to keep the Internet from becoming the Wild West where ISPs are free to offer premium service to only the wealthiest customers while average consumers are left with far inferior options.
According to The Washington Post, Washington and California lawmakers have discussed taking similar measures as Montana. And they're likely not the only ones. In fact, over 20 states actually sued the FCC in January after it repealed net neutrality rules. So, if the FCC pushes against Montana's and New York's executive orders, it's likely the states will fight right back.