Maple syrup, the Green Mountains, and network neutrality. On February 15th, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed Executive Order No. 2-18, the Internet Neutrality in State Procurement, following closely the actions of four other Governors over the past few weeks. You can read the E.O. here.
States Take A Stand
Like similar actions in Montana, New York, Hawaii, and New Jersey, Vermont’s executive order applies to contracts between ISPs and state agencies. The order directs the state Agency of Administration to change its procedures so that any ISP it contracts with doesn't throttle, engage in paid prioritization, or block content. The Agency of Administration has until April 1st to make the changes to Vermont’s procedures.
If a state agency cannot obtain services from an ISP that agrees to comport with network neutrality policy, the state agency can apply for a waiver. The E.O. is silent as to what would allow a waiver; presumably the Agency of Administration would need to establish criteria.
Action In The State Chambers
In early February, the State Senate passed S.289 with only 5 nays and 23 yeas. The executive order Scott recently signed reflected the intention behind the language of S.289 regarding state contracts. When Sen. Virginia Lyons introduced the bill, she described it as a necessary tool to ensure transparency in government. “We don’t want to see information held back or slowed down or deviated in any way when it relates to our state or local government,” Lyons said.
After passage, however, the secretary of the Agency of Administration, the secretary of the Agency of Digital Services; and the Department of Public Service’s director of telecom and connectivity drafted a memo they submitted to the Senate’s Committee on Finance. The memo expressed concern that S.289, or any state network neutrality legislation, could open the door for lawsuits from ISPs, even if the FCC chose not to challenge it. Lyons was willing for forge ahead:
“Having an open, neutral internet is worth a great deal,” she said. Much of what is being said about the bills before the Legislature, “is hypothetical and it’s fearful … and we should not act based on fear. We should act positively to protect what we need.”
A bill in the State House, H.680, takes a broader approach and requires ISPs that do business in the state to obtain network neutrality certification from the state’s Public Utility Commission. The bipartisan bill has a long list of sponsors, revealing that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents disapprove of the FCC decision to end network neutrality protections. H.680 was introduced in late January but has not had a hearing yet.
Takin’ It To The Courts
Vermont has not stood still since Chairman Ajit Pai and the other Republican Commissioners of the FCC voted to repeal network neutrality regulations. The state’s Attorney General TJ Donovan joined 21 others in a lawsuit filed in January to block the December 14th decision.
“Vermonters deserve and expect fair treatment when it comes to Internet access,” Donovan said in a statement. “The FCC’s unjustified action threatens the lifeblood of businesses and consumers to transact commerce freely and fairly.”
Democrats in Washington D.C. have signed on to a resolution that would use the federal Congressional Review Act to reverse the decision. With Republican Susan Collins of Maine committed to also supporting it, the Senate needs only one more vote to pass it. On February 27th several network neutrality advocacy groups will head up Operation:#OneMoreVote. A long list of popular websites will encourage visitors to contact their federal elected officials and ask them to support the measure.
State Authority Vs. Federal Power
Vermonters who wonder if their elected officials support consumer network neutrality protections, can look at the list of sponsors of state bill H.680 and learn more about it online. If they don’t see their elected officials on the list of sponsors, voters should consider contacting them to find out where they stand on the issue. Rep. Tom Stevens, the lead sponsor of H.680 in Vermont believes that the FCC decision will hurt rural communities even more than other areas:
“If we close off any more access to information, then we’re dooming our rural economy. We already pay for access to the internet, but if we have to pay extra for access to information on the internet, then it really puts us at a disadvantage to more densely populated areas that have easier access.”