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Rhode Island Looks to Solidify Net Neutrality Requirements

In an effort to implement net neutrality requirements for the Internet service providers involved in public contracts, state lawmakers have proposed a bill to codify an existing executive order.

Rhode Island statehouse
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Currently, in Rhode Island, an executive order passed by the state’s previous Gov. Gina Raimondo requires Internet service providers to comply with neutrality requirements when entering into certain public procurement contracts.

The concern regarding this executive order, according to one state senator, is that it can be changed at any time by a new chief executive. This prompted lawmakers to propose a bill to make the executive order a permanent law.

“This is the fourth year the bill has been proposed,” Sen. Louis DiPalma said. “It was passed previously by the Senate, but not the House.”

“The executive order mimics language in the bill, which basically says that if you are going to work with the state, you need to follow our net neutrality principles,” DiPalma said.

Some of these principles include preventing service providers from blocking lawful content, applications, or services related to network management and prohibiting the impairment of Internet traffic based on content or applications.

Other principles include not engaging in paid prioritization or interfering with a customer’s ability to access and use broadband Internet or preventing customers from using other Internet content, applications, services or devices of their choice.

To implement these standards, the state’s Division of Purchases — with input from the Public Utilities Commission, Emergency Management Agency and Division of Information Technology — would amend the state’s procurement rules to meet these requirements.

“The impetus for this particular bill was the Trump administration allowing net neutrality to die by the wayside,” DiPalma said. “Now with the Biden administration, once they get the [Federal Communications Commission] where it should be, net neutrality should become the law of the land overriding individual state mandates.”

DiPalma expanded on this topic, saying, “net neutrality is a national thing, not a state thing. However, if Congress can’t address this issue, then we aren’t going to sit back.”

“Until this is addressed on a larger scale,” DiPalma said, “I plan to stay with this bill until it gets over the goal line, no matter how long it takes.”

The challenge, going forward, he said, is getting others to understand the importance of the bill so it can be passed before being overturned.

As of now, the state’s current Gov. Daniel McKee has not overturned the executive order.

The Division of Purchases declined to comment on pending legislation.
Katya Maruri is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University, and more than five years of experience in the print and digital news industry.
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