When President Trump’s FCC gutted net neutrality regulations, it left a massive wound to the free and open internet nationally. A state law in Oregon signed by the governor today, is an essential Oregon-sized bandage to that federally-induced wound.
Along with our allies and thousands of ACLU supporters who wrote their Oregon legislators, we fought hard for this bill in Salem because it’s so important for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to treat online data equally, not discriminating based on user or content. Simply put: Large corporations shouldn’t have the authority to control your access to the internet or speed, slow, or block communication and services on the internet based on who can pay more.
This critical bill was signed into law today by Governor Kate Brown, several weeks after its bipartisan passage in the state legislature. Today’s signing is a major win for those who understand that equal access to the internet is crucial to free speech and democracy.
The new law requires Oregon agencies to contract only with ISPs that provide net neutral internet access service to all of its customers. It’s a complex law dealing with an oftentimes-confusing topic, so we sat down with our policy director, Kimberly McCullough, to explain why today’s news is so huge.
What are the basics of the law and how will it help Oregonians?
KM: This new law uses the purchasing power of state and local governments to promote net neutrality in Oregon. It’s certainly not a panacea – it doesn’t solve all of the problems of the federal net neutrality rules going away – but it really pushes things in the right direction. Any internet service provider who wants to contract with the government to provide internet access, they have to promise to provide net neutral service to everyone they serve. That’s a really important point to emphasize: it has to be net neutral for everyone.
All of the ISPs that contract with state and local government will also have to disclose their network management practices, performance, and terms of service, so the public will know they are providing net neutral service. Consumers can then find out who those providers are and choose to get internet service from the ISPs that are actually providing open internet access service.
Why did the state legislature have to go through it this way instead of just making net neutrality a law for every ISP in the state?
KM: Some states have been considering very broad legislation that directly regulates ISPs and requires them to provide net neutral service across the board. In response, the telecoms are threatening to sue, claiming that broad laws will be preempted by federal law. What that means is that they claim that the federal government is the only entity that has the authority to regulate net neutrality. Are they correct about that? Ultimately, the courts are going to have to decide. But in the meantime, we decided to take a more cautious – but still incredibly meaningful approach here in Oregon and crafted and narrowly tailored approach to protecting net neutrality that avoids some of the messy questions about what the state can and cannot regulate due to federal preemption. And ultimately, if the broader approaches succeed, we could always follow suit.
Now that Governor Brown has signed it into law, what’s the next step?
KM: The Public Utility Commission (PUC) is going to write rules that provide guidance to state and local governments so that they know what to put in their contracts with internet service providers to ensure that those ISPs will provide net neutral service to all of their customers. The PUC will also provide guidance to ISPs about what they need to disclose to comply with the law’s transparency provisions.
What else should Oregonians know?
KM: They should be proud that Oregon was the second state in the country to take action on this issue by passing a law through their legislature. They acted incredibly fast to protect Oregonians right to a free and open internet. Of course, there’s still more work to do. But this was a huge step in the right direction.