Photo contributed by Derek Murphy

URI students call governor to action, net neutrality executive order signed 5 days later

On Friday, April 20, The University of Rhode Island’s College Democrats and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) URI held an event in the Memorial Union to promote local action in support of net neutrality.

The event, “Net Neutrality, Taking Action,” encouraged participants to call Governor Gina Raimondo’s office and sign a petition in order to encourage state leaders to pass executive orders and legislation to protect net neutrality.  

According to College Democrats’ President Andy Boardman, the organization planned the event to coincide with the Trump Administration’s April 23 repeal of federal net neutrality protections.

Earlier this year, Trump appointee, former Verizon lawyer and Federal Communications  Commission chairman, Ajit Pai scrapped protections that required internet service providers to give neutral access and support for all content providers and web-applications.

In a prepared statement following the 3-2 vote in the Federal Communications Commission, Pai argued that repealing net neutrality would, “Empower all Americans with digital opportunity, not deny them the benefits of greater access and competition.”

The FCC’s decision garnered a considerable amount of backlash from internet users, especially from younger users, who on a daily basis rely on the internet for social media, communication and entertainment.

Many of the event’s organizers and participants had strong words to condemn the FCC’s decision.

“I believe access to the internet is a right, not a commodity,” sophomore and ACLU member, Cameron Poe said.

“I believe that in our internet we have to maintain net neutrality, and fight for our interests, not the interests of corporations,” first-year student, Gina Jovaneh said.

This outcry from young internet users has pushed state legislators and Governors around the country to pass statewide net neutrality protections to prevent the effects of a federal repeal.

“A number of states have already had their Governors pass executive orders to address net neutrality within their states,” Boardman said. “This includes Vermont, New Jersey, New York, and Hawaii. This is something that has been done, and now there is a model for it.”

Support for net neutrality has bipartisan support within the state and nationally. A 2017 poll from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation found that 83 percent of voters support net neutrality regulations.

“We cannot let crony capitalism intervene in one of the most fundamental utilities of the modern age,” Sam Foer, president of ACLU URI said. “The ACLU URI supports measures that protect net neutrality because we recognize it as being an issue that concerns a central tenet of equality of opportunity in today’s world.”

The state level policy that Boardman referenced would protect Rhode Islander’s internet access by requiring all internet service providers with state contracts to abide by net neutrality regulations.

Five days after the College Democrat’s event, and the efforts of other net neutrality activists in Rhode Island, Governor Raimondo signed the “Internet and State Procurement” executive order.

Governor Raimondo’s executive order outlined the importance of net neutrality for Rhode Island businesses and state agencies. Within the executive order, Raimondo underscored the need for an open internet in schools and libraries to  “educate students, promote social and intellectual growth, and to prepare them to succeed in the global economy.”

The news of the Governor’s executive order was well received by her political allies and net neutrality supporters.

“I applaud Governor Raimondo for taking action to protect net neutrality in Rhode Island,” Boardman said. “This executive order is a powerful step towards protecting the free and open internet in Rhode Island, let’s keep the momentum going and codify these protections into state law.”