What good is a law if 1/5th of the US population defies it? Now, another Executive Order — this time from the governor of New Jersey — is directly challenging the authority of the FCC and its net neutrality rollback.
Updated (Wed Feb. 7th): Hawaii governor David Ige has just signed an Executive Order requiring that all ISPs with state contracts adhere to net neutrality. The order makes Hawaii the 4th state to issue such an Order.
The FCC rolled back net neutrality. On paper. But is that rollback now just a paper tiger?
That’s a question now being asked by major internet companies, legislators, and the FCC itself, thanks to another defiant Executive Order. This time, the State of New Jersey is decisively on the side of net neutrality. The state has nearly 9 million inhabitants.
Just this morning, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy signed an Executive Order requiring that any ISP doing business with the state adhere to net neutrality principles. Accordingly, any ISP that wants to promote paid ‘fast lanes’ and throttle internet traffic can take their business elsewhere.
“We may not agree with everything we see online, but that does not give us a justifiable reason to block the free, uninterrupted, and indiscriminate flow of information,” Governor Murphy declared.
“And, it certainly doesn’t give certain companies or individuals a right to pay their way to the front of the line. While New Jersey cannot unilaterally regulate net neutrality back into law or cement it as a state regulation, we can exercise our power as a consumer to make our preferences known.”
A full version of Executive Order No. 9 can be found here.
The Executive Order follows two similar orders by the governors of New York and Montana. It also follows a defiant bill by the State of California to require all ISPs in the state to adhere to net neutrality. That bill is rapidly headed towards becoming law.
Those states accounts for combined 21.35 percent of the entire US population, according to 2016 population estimates.
Of course, California and New York account for the most people, with a combined 59 million Americans. Montana offers another 1.04 million (approximately), with New Jersey has 8.94 million people. In total, that’s nearly 69 million people, or more than 21% of every living person in the US.
Meanwhile, other states are close to the tipping point. Perhaps Colorado should already be added to the tally, thanks to aggressive shifts towards state-run ISPs. In total, the FCC is being sued by more than 20 state attorneys general.
All of which is making life extremely difficult for mega-ISPs like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast.
One simple reason is that defiant states now present potential war zones — and war is bad for business. For starters, an ISP that refuses to adhere to net neutrality provisions in a state like New Jersey risks losing billions of dollars. And even if it wins a legal battle, the cost could be years of suspended service and alienated customers.
But the effect of these state refusals is actually more far-reaching. If ISPs smartly decide to comply with the Orders while ditching net neutrality overall, they are then presented with a state-by-state patchwork of access rules, which introduces massive compliance costs and headaches.
That may explain why AT&T is now speaking in favor of net neutrality, despite the obvious profit problems that come with it. Other mega-ISPs are yet to speak publicly on the matter, though the FCC’s decision to blatantly ignore public opinion now appears to be seriously backfiring.
Here’s a quick rundown of state-by-state actions to protect net neutrality since the FCC’s rollback.