With the federal government set to allow internet service providers to pick and choose what content their customers can access, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is standing up for preservation of internet freedom.

Bullock directed the Department of Administration to add net neutrality principles to new state internet contracts starting July 1. His executive order applies only to state contracts.

The governor’s order doesn’t directly protect Montanans’ home or business internet service. However if that internet service provider also wants to do business with the state of Montana, Bullock said, it will have to adhere to principles that maintain the level playing field for all legal content and customers.

Starting this spring, a federal government policy that kept the net neutral will be abolished by a decision of the FCC. In Montana, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte hailed the end of net neutrality, Sen. Jon Tester opposed it.

Regardless of one’s political party, net neutrality has been a boon to small internet entrepreneurs and to customers who were assured that providers couldn’t slow down their content or jack up prices on certain content while charging less for access to other content creators.

“When the FCC repealed its net neutrality rules, it said consumers should choose,” Bullock told a computer science class at Helena High School Monday. “The state of Montana is one of the biggest consumers of internet services in our state. Today we’re making our choice clear: We want net neutrality.”

Bullock noted that citizens access numerous state services online — everything from registering motor vehicles to checking road reports and commenting on public issues before the Legislature or state departments.

Many service providers have pledged they will adhere to certain internet principles despite the demise of the federal rules. Bullock aims to ensure those pledges are kept, at least by companies that get state contracts.

Bullock should expect pushback from the big corporations who lobbied the FCC to end net neutrality. Without those regulations they can pick and choose which internet content gets priority, they can charge more for some content and slow down content that doesn’t pay them a premium. What’s good for those large corporations is bad for us customers who want reasonable rates and the ability to choose for ourselves what we view online.

The internet industry may argue that a state has no authority to regulate the internet. Bullock will maintain that net neutrality is “closely related to the delivery of predictable, stable, high quality internet service for the state.”

“Throttling and paid prioritization could limit Montana citizens’ ability to receive government services and dramatically deepen the 'digital divide' as well as exacerbate challenges our poorest citizens have in accessing government help,” the governor’s order said.

As noted in a November Gazette opinion, there will be no recourse for consumers when the FCC changes take effect — no choice other than to pay whatever your internet service provider demands while new provider rates can speed up, slow down or block content. Don’t give into content extortion.

We hope other governors will stand with Bullock to preserve net neutrality. On Tuesday, New York state lawmakers were talking about taking similar action to protect their citizens.

-- Billings (Mont.) Gazette