FARGO - A group of Fargo-area legislative candidates and small businessmen have called on North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum to sign an executive order requiring the principles of net neutrality to be upheld by internet contractors for all future state contracts.
The request in the form of a news conference came Monday, April 23, the day the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality went into effect.
The group, led by Democratic District 41 House candidate Brandon Medenwald, calls for Burgum to require internet service providers to allow access to all content and applications regardless of their source, without favoring or blocking products because an ISP may disagree with a particular message or because they want to charge more money for faster delivery of services.
"We all believe in a free and open internet, without censorship, where winners and losers are not decided by the companies selling internet access, but rather by the sites and services offering the best ideas," said Medenwald, founder of Simply Made Apps in Fargo.
On Dec. 14, 2017, the FCC voted to implement Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to end net neutrality.
The governors of Montana, New York, New Jersey, Vermont and Hawaii have signed orders requiring ISPs to honor net neutrality in their states. Oregon and Washington have passed net neutrality laws.
Meanwhile, attorneys general from 22 states and the District of Columbia are suing the FCC, charging that the rollback violates federal law.
However, Gov. Burgum is not considering an executive order, Communications Director Mike Nowatzki said Monday.
"Reliable high-speed internet is the critical infrastructure of the 21st century. The internet thrived, grew and survived from its inception until 2015 when the Obama administration attempted to apply Depression-era regulations to fix something that wasn't broken," Burgum said in a written statement. "Internet service providers in North Dakota have reaffirmed their commitment to continue providing fair and unfettered access, as they always have. We need policies that support investment and encourage innovation, not regulation."
Medenwald said big changes in how internet access is parsed out and priced won't happen overnight, but rather, slowly.
Abandoning net neutrality could create a world "that is anti-consumer and one that is anti-small business," Medenwald said.
"We believe our customers should be able to choose a solution that works best for them," said Nick Horab, founder of Fargo-based Harvest Profit.
Horab said his firm needs that same open internet that benefitted Burgum when he ran Great Plains Software, which he sold to Microsoft in 2001, and later when he worked for Microsoft.
"Our company needs the same open internet that the governor and our state has benefitted from since the inception of the modern internet," Horab said.
"Ninety-nine percent of our business is done online," said Clint Howitz, CEO of Fargo-based DogIDs.
Howitz said abandoning net neutrality could be a burden on his business and startup firms as organic traffic dries up and firms are forced to pay for ads. Organic traffic is is non-paid traffic to websites from search engines, social networks or other websites.
"It's going to be very difficult for us to grow" using paid advertising, Howitz said.
State Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, also wants more internet privacy protections, including requiring internet firms to get explicit consent from consumers to harvest information like browsing histories.
Hanson said only 24 percent of Americans have two or more internet providers to choose from.
"People don't always have the luxury of choosing an internet provider based on their net neutrality policies or their privacy policies. In many rural parts of the country, and especially in parts of North Dakota, there may be only a single provider of services," she said.