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2018-01-22 13:46:03
Montana Governor’s Executive Order Would Force Net Neutrality

WASHINGTON — Most efforts underway to restore so-called net neutrality face big obstacles and would take many months, if not years, to succeed.

But in Montana, the governor plans to use the stroke of a pen to bring the rules to broad parts of his state.

Through an executive order, Gov. Steve Bullock will declare that any internet service provider with a state government contract cannot block or charge more for faster delivery of websites, two core aspects of net neutrality, to any customer in the state. Governor Bullock said in an interview that he expected to sign the order on Monday.

Many major landline and mobile broadband providers, including Charter, CenturyLink, AT&T and Verizon, hold government contracts in the state. The new requirements would apply to new and renewed contracts signed after July 1, 2018.

The action, the first of its kind by a governor, could face legal challenges.

In December, the Federal Communications Commission rolled back rules meant to protect a free and open internet. The new rules say that states cannot create net neutrality laws. The agency did not respond to a request for comment about the potential Montana action.

But Mr. Bullock and some public interest advocates who have advised him argue that the state has wide latitude to set conditions to any contracts with the government — one of the biggest customers in most cities and states — to get around the F.C.C.’s restrictions.

“If you want to do business with Montana, there are standards on net neutrality you will have to follow,” Mr. Bullock said.

The idea is similar to bills in New York and Rhode Island that are also trying to use government contracts to regulate the practices of internet service providers. Those efforts are proceeding slowly along with multiple lawsuits filed last week by more than 20 state attorneys general and public interest groups.

Mr. Bullock, a Democrat, said the executive order was the fastest and surest way to bring back net neutrality rules and to head off any decisions by internet service providers to begin throttling or charging websites more to reach consumers.

“There is a long history of government using its procurement power to get companies to adopt requirements and this is no different,” said Travis LeBlanc, the former enforcement chief for the F.C.C. during the Obama administration. “This action by Governor Bullock will provide immediate relief.”

Though the order would apply only to Montana, it could have a spillover effect as seen with auto emissions rules and cybersecurity notification laws that began in a few states but eventually became national standards.

“This is simple plug and play for other states to do as well,” Mr. Bullock said.