Oregon enacts internet protections

New law challenges federal repeal of net neutrality

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On April 9, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill establishing net neutrality protections in Oregon in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of nationwide regulations.

The bill, HB 4155, is designed to prevent government agencies from awarding contracts to Internet Service Providers, like Comcast and CenturyLink, who do not abide by the soon-to-be extinct net neutrality regulations. Oregon is the second state to enact net neutrality protections after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a similar bill into law in March.

“In Oregon, we want to make sure that access to the internet is a level playing field, instead of exacerbating economic disparity,” Gov. Brown said in a statement after signing the bill.

Unlike Washington’s law, however, Oregon’s legislation does not require ISPs to abide by neutrality guidelines when dealing with private consumers. Colleges and universities are not considered government entities under the law, meaning that institutions like Lane Community College and the University of Oregon are not required to contract with net neutral providers.

Net neutrality protections are designed to ensure that ISPs do not give priority to websites that pay more to reach consumers. Since the repeal of regulations by the FCC in Dec. 2017, advocates for net neutrality have voiced concerns that ISPs would use pay scales to control speed and access for customers.

“It’s easy enough to imagine how the end of net neutrality will trigger ISPs creating new ‘fast-lane’ packages – pay us a little (or a lot) extra, or your stuff just won’t load as fast,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said during testimony regarding HB 4155 in February.

The Oregon and Washington net neutrality bills, as well as bills being debated in other states, are likely to be challenged in court by both the federal government and ISPs, as the FCC included provisions in their repeal to prevent states from overriding federal jurisdiction over the internet. Twenty-two Democratic state attorneys general — including A.G. Rosenblum — have filed lawsuits against the FCC challenging the repeal of net neutrality protections.

“The real losers with the loss of net neutrality rules won’t be the Netflixes or Amazons of the world,” A.G. Rosenblum said. “It will be our small businesses, our startups, our entrepreneurs.”

The debate over net neutrality rules largely fall along party lines, and the same is true in Oregon. Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, is a vocal advocate for net neutrality protections, while Republican Representative Greg Wyden of Hood River is one of the leading opponents of net neutrality.

“Chairman [Ajit] Pai and the FCC understand the importance of making sure the internet continues to flourish under a light-touch regulatory regime,” Rep. Walden said in a statement after the repeal of net neutrality regulations. He spoke out against Oregon’s net neutrality bill.

Representative Paul Holvey of Eugene was one of the primary sponsors of HB 4155. Representatives. Julie Fahey of Junction City and Nancy Nathanson of Eugene were also co-sponsors. Every Eugene-area representative voted in favor of the bill except for Rep. Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek.

The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, pending potential court challenges.