Oregon moves toward state net neutrality law

Of the Associated Press

SALEM — In response to moves by federal regulators ending net neutrality, and citing a looming deadline, Oregon legislators advanced a proposal aimed at forcing internet service providers in the state to treat all types of content equally.

The proposal passed the House 40-17 Monday and now heads to the Senate.

If enacted, the measure wouldn't mandate internet providers take any action, but would stop state agencies from buying internet service from any company that blocks or prioritizes specific content or apps, starting in 2019. The prohibition would include cities and counties, but includes an exemption for areas with only a single provider.

The move follows a December vote by the Federal Communications Commission repealing Obama-era rules prohibiting internet providers from selectively blocking or slowing some content or apps. Critics say the change 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 tiers.

On Monday, Democratic lawmakers said using the power of the checkbook - essentially threatening to pull the state's business from non-neutral providers - would influence companies but stop short of regulating them, a move that could run afoul of the federal regulator. The FCC has said it will pre-empt state rules that contradict its own.

Republican legislators objected, and tried to substitute a study group, citing concerns that empowered state agencies might over reach, and ultimately themselves begin regulating internet content. But Democratic legislators voted the substitution down, pointing to effective dates for federal rules later this year as precluding delay.

“We have until April 23rd until our net neutrality rules are gone,” said Rep. Jennifer Williamson, leader of Oregon's Democratic House Majority. The FCC set the deadline Thursday, when it published the rule change in the Federal Register.

Republican Minority Leader Mike Mclain said it was too soon to act.

“Let's use that time to study and come up with something that... that won't be pre-empted by the federal government,” McLane said.

Other states have taken steps to ensure neutral internet service. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum joined a coalition of 22 states and the District of Columbia in filing legal challenges last week to block the rules from taking effect.

Neighboring Washington state's House of Representatives also passed legislation earlier in the month proposing to force providers to disclose if they restrict or block traffic, and making doing so punishable under the state's Consumer Protection Act. In January, an order by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock made the state the first to enact a purchasing ban similar to the Oregon proposal.

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