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Montana becomes the first state to implement net neutrality

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock signs executive order requiring ISPs with state contracts to treat all content equally.

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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock takes a selfie Monday with computer science students at a high school he attended. There, he announced an executive order he signed implementing net neutrality principles.

Screenshot by CNET/Twitter @GovernorBullock

Unhappy with the Federal Communication Commission's repeal of net neutrality regulations? Well, you could move to Montana.

Montana's Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday signed an executive order requiring all internet service providers with state contracts to commit to net neutrality, the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally.

That makes Montana the first state to successfully push back against last month's ruling of the Republican-led FCC, which essentially dismantled the rules adopted under the Obama administration in 2015. The rules had barred internet service providers from blocking or slowing down access to the internet or charging companies a fee to reach customers faster than competitors. Consumer advocates, internet companies like Facebook and Google, and nonprofits, including the New York Public Library, say an open internet is essential to free speech and innovation.

On the other side, cable operators and phone companies, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, say the rules went too far in treating broadband like a utility, subjecting it to decades-old regulations meant for the telephone network.

The fight has become highly partisan, with Democrats in Washington and throughout the country uniting to protect net neutrality, and free-market Republicans arguing that Obama-era FCC rules were too much.

Bullock, in a statement, alluded to congressional Democrats' efforts to overturn the repeal. "It's time to actually do something about it.

"This is a simple step states can take to preserve and protect net neutrality. We can't wait for folks in Washington, DC, to come to their senses and reinstate these rules," he added.

Bullock announced his move alongside computer science students in the same high school he attended. He encouraged other states to follow the framework Monday has laid out.

"To every governor and every legislator in every statehouse across the country, and to every small business and every Fortune 500 company that wants a free and open internet when they buy services: I will personally email this to you," he said. 

Legislatures in New York and Rhode Island have already drafted similar bills trying to use government contracts to regulate ISPs, The New York Times pointed out. And Montana's action is likely to face legal challenges. Broadband providers say they'll have trouble following different state's net neutrality laws, the Times said. 

 Maggie Reardon contributed to this report.

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