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Oregon governor signs net neutrality bill

April 9, 2018

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill Monday withholding state business from internet providers who throttle traffic, making the state the second to finalize a proposal aimed at thwarting moves by federal regulators to relax net neutrality requirements.

The bill stops short of actually putting new requirements on internet service providers in the state, but blocks the state from doing business with providers that offer preferential treatment to some internet content or apps, starting in 2019. The move follows a December vote by the Federal Communications Commission repealing Obama-era rules that prohibited such preferential treatment, referred to generally as throttling, by providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon.

“When the federal government repealed net neutrality it took a giant step backward,” Brown said before signing the measure at a Portland-area school.

Brown’s signature makes the state the second to enact such legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It also stakes out the state’s claim to a moderate approach, compared to others: Five weeks to the day before Brown, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill in his state to directly regulate providers there.

Critics of the federal change say it could lead to the division of the internet into tiers, with high-quality information reaching only those willing to pay extra and controversial views or outlets relegated to slower channels.

But states looking to create their own standards face potential federal opposition. In February, the FCC said it would use its power to pre-empt the laws of any states that try to directly regulate providers, and set an April 23 deadline for the new, more relaxed rules to take effect.

At the Oregon signing, state House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson echoed statements from Democratic legislators there that using the power of the state’s checkbook would influence providers while stopping short of actually imposing regulations on providers themselves.

The prohibition, which restricts with whom the state may contract for internet services, applies to cities and counties, but exempts areas with only a single provider.

Democratic legislators had also cited the deadline in support of taking immediate action. Republican lawmakers said they were worried that even the hands-off approach could draw scrutiny from the federal government.

Legislators in more than half the states have introduced net neutrality legislation, including both outright bans and purchasing prohibitions like Oregon’s, but most have yet to pass, according to a report from the NCSL. Governors in five - Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana, Vermont_have signed executive orders on the subject.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum also joined a coalition of 22 states and the District of Columbia in filing legal challenges in February to block the federal rules from taking effect.

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