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Business/Economy

Gov. Walker rejects lawmakers’ request for executive order on net neutrality

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: June 26
  • Published June 25

Gov. Bill Walker last week said in a letter to Alaska lawmakers that he would not issue an executive order to implement net neutrality rules for internet service providers that contract with state agencies.

Lawmakers tried in the last legislative session to preserve such rules at the state level, as the repeal of such rules goes into effect federally, but the effort failed. In February, a bipartisan group of 24 lawmakers signed a letter to Walker asking him to issue an order that would prohibit "all state agencies from entering into internet service contracts with providers that violate the principles of net neutrality with respect to any consumer in the state."

In a June 20 letter to those lawmakers, Walker declined.

"Like you, I have been concerned with the actions taken by the Federal Communication Commission regarding the repeal of net neutrality," Walker said. "However, after looking at the legal hurdles the State faces by being in conflict with a program that very likely federally preempts states' laws, and considering circumstances that already exist within Alaska, I am taking some alternative steps to address this issue."

Under the Obama-era net neutrality rules, internet service providers were prohibited from blocking or slowing access to whichever lawful websites they so choose. They were also prohibited from engaging in paid prioritization of certain websites over others.

In December, the Federal Communications Commission voted to toss those rules, and the repeal went into effect earlier this month.

Legislation introduced earlier this year aimed to uphold net neutrality law at the state level in Alaska. Another pair of bills would have required providers that contract with the state to abide by net neutrality rules.

State agencies in Alaska spend more than $4.4 million a year on broadband services "and are among the heaviest consumers of internet in our state," the February letter from lawmakers said.

In his letter, Walker noted the importance of the internet in Alaska for the delivery of services, especially in remote areas. He also cited "serious broadband gaps" people here face.

"I wanted to be innovative in finding solutions," he said, "but I also want to be careful not to hinder important work already being done to connect rural communities throughout the state."

Walker and one of the main lawmakers who pushed for the order are concerned about what net neutrality would mean for rural Alaska, but in different ways.

An administrative order from the governor on net neutrality is "limited in what it could accomplish," Walker's press secretary Austin Baird said in an email.

"Additionally, many regions of Alaska have one internet service provider, so a ban may leave some rural communities without internet service at all," Baird said.

Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, was one of the main sponsors on the net neutrality legislation.

"I felt it was a serious enough issue that it rose to statewide policy, because so many villages are only connected through telehealth or through education, to the internet," he said.

The state's largest telecom companies, GCI and Alaska Communications, opposed the proposed legislation and also said earlier this year that they are committed to an "open internet."

Lawmakers elsewhere in the country have also made efforts to uphold net neutrality rules at the state level.

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