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Governor Declines Bipartisan Legislative Request for Executive Order to Secure Net Neutrality for Alaskans


June 27, 2018
Wednesday PM

(SitNews) Anchorage, Alaska - Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) expressed disappointment in Governor Bill Walker's decision not to pursue net neutrality protections for Alaskans through an executive order.

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In February Senator Wielechowski, along with a bipartisan group of 23 legislators including Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan), sent the governor a letter urging exercise of his constitutional authority to issue an executive order requiring the state's governmental departments to contract only with internet service providers (ISPs) who abide by the principles of net neutrality. The governors of New York, Montana, New Jersey, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Hawaii have all issued similar executive orders this year. So far the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the body that repealed net neutrality last December, has not pursued any legal challenges to the executive orders.

Under net neutrality, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) must treat all data equally, cannot throttle speed or restrict access, and cannot discriminate against or charge differently among users, websites, content.

In his recent response on June 20th to the legislators' February request, Governor Walker declined to issue the executive order, suggesting he could not do so because the FCC's repeal "very likely preempts states' laws."  Governor Walker stated in his letter that he is taking some alternative steps to address this issue.

"I am disappointed that the governor would disregard a valid request to use his executive authority to put internet access protections in place for Alaskans, and I don't agree with his reasons," said Senator Wielechowski. "States have wide latitude to establish the qualifications and terms they expect from their contractors. A standard of non-discrimination toward the people-individual Alaskans and businesses using the internet-should be an appropriate requirement for ISPs seeking highly profitable contracts with the State of Alaska."

The FCC's repeal took effect on June 11.

"The impacts of the FCC's action are about to become apparent across the nation. Our residents who are so dependent on a free and open internet for work, education, telemedicine, and to communicate with family around the state and the Lower 48 are going to be without any protections," said Representative Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks), who had signed the February letter. "If other states can do it, why can't we? Why don't we just assert our state's right to contract how we see fit? It's too important to Alaskans to do nothing." 
Last session Senator Wielechowski also sponsored a bill on this same state procurement requirement, as well as a resolution asking Congress to reverse the FCC's decision. Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) sponsored legislation attempting to make net neutrality the law in Alaska. Each of the three pieces of legislation were refused hearings by the Senate State Affairs' Republican committee chair.

"The governor's response focused on connectivity infrastructure. But we need both the infrastructure and net neutrality," said Senator Wielechowski. "Open access is so integral to how our isolated, vast state advances in learning, communications, and technology. Without the executive order, we are missing our last opportunity to do something on this critical issue. The internet as Alaskans know and rely on it now could cease to exist."

Walker stated in his letter that he is working to address serious broad band gaps facing Alaskans and he had spoken to Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft specifically about Alaska's need for broadband in Alaska, specifically rural Alaska. The Governor requested by letter that Microsoft consider Alaska as part of its Rural Airband Initiative. Microsoft's initiative focuses on connecting rural America in 12 states by 2022. Walker stated in his letter of response to the February request by the legislators, " I have offered that if Microsoft can solve connectivity challenges in Alaska, where we have immense geographic distances, remote and isolate communities off the road system, and extreme climate conditions, then Microsoft could solve other connectivity challenges in other parts of the United States.:

In May 2018, the State of Alaska announced a new partnership with Education SuperHighway, a non-profit organization committed to helping states expand broadband opportunities, to ensure more connectivity for all Alaska schools.


On the Web:

Governor's June 20, 2018 response for Executive Order RE: Net Neutrality (PDF)

Legislators' February 20, 2018 Executive Order Request RE: Net Neutrality (PDF)



Reporting and Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News:

Alaska Senate Democrats



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