Vermont Net Neutrality Bill Nears Finish Line

With just days left in the Vermont Legislative session, state legislators are working to finalize language on a proposal to promote net neutrality in Vermont.

S.289 – the Net Neutrality Bill – is being negotiated in a committee of conference, before heading to both the House and Senate for a final up-or-down vote.

If passed S.289 would require the state of Vermont to contract only with net neutral internet service providers (ISPs), ensuring that Vermont taxpayer dollars do not go to internet companies that block, throttle or otherwise inhibit lawful internet content.

The bill also tasks the attorney general with creating a public report of the network practices of all ISPs in the state, so that consumer can make informed choices about their internet providers.

Finally, it asks the attorney general to work with other stakeholders to study net neutrality further, with an eye toward even stronger state-level net neutrality protections in 2019.

The bill is a response to the Trump administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order in December that repealed strong net neutrality protections previously enshrined at the federal level.

Those protections ensured that ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T continue to provide access to all internet content and applications regardless of their source and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. With many of these telecom conglomerates growing to become both internet providers and content producers (e.g. Comcast’s acquisition of NBC, AT&T’s attempted merger with Time Warner), the need for enshrined principles preventing them from advantaging their own content has become increasingly important.

The Trump FCC’s order (which officially went into effect in April) rescinded these protections and essentially gives these giant telecoms free rein to dismantle the fair and open internet that we’ve all come to rely on.

Governor Phil Scott issues an Executive Order in February that purports to require state agencies to only contract with net neutral ISPs. However, the governor’s order contains a massive loophole that will allow the state to continue contracting with non-net neutral providers.

If passed in its current form – S.289 would close that loophole and lay the groundwork for even stronger protections next year.

VPIRG is encouraging its members to call the State House at 1-800-322-5616 and encourage their lawmakers (both House and Senate) to support final passage of S.289 – the net neutrality bill.