Montana on Monday became the first state to bar telecommunications companies from receiving state contracts if they "unreasonably interfere" with internet traffic or favor higher-paying sites or apps, under an order from Gov. Steve Bullock intended to protect so-called net neutrality. The Democratic governor's order comes after the FCC last month repealed rules enacted in 2015 that had more tightly regulated companies such as AT&T and Verizon, reports the AP. Commission members said the repeal was needed to ensure the government maintains a "light touch" in its oversight of the internet. But critics such as Bullock contend the change will hurt consumers and startup companies. States attorneys have sued to block the repeal and state legislatures have introduced bills promoting net neutrality, but Bullock is the first governor to take action.
His order applies to any company seeking a new state contract for telecommunications services after July 1. It notes companies must not "unreasonably interfere" with Montana internet users' ability to access the content of their choice. That includes giving preference to websites that pay more to internet providers. Terms of existing telecommunications contracts with the state would not be changed. Bullock told the state Department of Administration to craft policies and guidance by March 1 to put the order into effect, and he invited governors and lawmakers across the US to duplicate his action. It was not immediately clear if Bullock's order could face a legal challenge for being out of step with the FCC plan. The FCC repeal—expected to go into effect this spring—pre-empted states and cities from imposing rules that contradict its own plan. (Read more net neutrality stories.)