The Montclair Township Council’s July 24 meeting was short and sweet, lasting just under an hour and dealing with a light agenda. But the meeting did produce a thoughtful discussion about Net neutrality, and how Montclair should respond to it, when a resolution offering such a response came up.
Net neutrality, the idea that all Internet content should be treated equally, was abolished by the federal government on June 11. Defenders of the move, championed by Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai, say that Net-neutrality regulations hindered the sort of service and product expansion from Internet service providers (ISPs) that prospered under what Pai calls the “light-touch regulation” of the 1990s. Critics of the abolition of Net neutrality say this regulation rollback will allow ISPs to slow site-loading speeds and charge more for faster loads, throttle services and sits from competitors, and even block sites that they (the ISPs) find objectionable (such as, say, a high-speed rail advocacy site being blocked by an ISP that has advertising accounts with automobile companies on its sister television network).
In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order stating that any ISP that enters into a contract to do business with the state after July 1 of this year should adhere to the principles of Net neutrality for New Jersey residents. The issue may have faded from national media attention after Pai had Net neutrality repealed, but Deputy Mayor / Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller brought it to the council’s agenda in the form of a resolution declaring that ISPs whom the township goes to bid for electronic communications services should also adhere to the principles of Net neutrality in Montclair. It also declares that it would be “the policy of the Township to preserve Net neutrality in the Township to the greatest extent possible by law.“ The members of the council’s Economic Development Committee – Deputy Mayor Spiller, Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville – have already had discussions with ISP representatives to voice their concerns.
Mayor Robert Jackson asked Deputy Mayor Spiller how this would look in Montclair. Deputy Mayor Spiller said the effects were “not fully known,” only that the initiative to require ISPs who want to do business with the township would have to adhere these principles for their customers in town as well as for the municipal Web site and municipal e-mails. Township Attorney Ira Karasick said the extent to which the township could enforce the resolution was an “open area,” and he admitted that he did not know how Montclair could enforce such a resolution…but he stopped short of saying that the town could not enforce it.
This all concerned First Ward Councilor William Hurlock, himself an attorney, who thought the resolution didn’t comport to a municipal framework and saw it as more of the domain of federal and state law. But Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo endorsed the resolution, saying that it was important for Montclair to be officially on the side of consumers who would pay more should ISPs run amok under the new deregulation. Dr. Baskerville concurred, saying it was the township’s obligation to take a stand. Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon said it was a “feel-good thing,” seeing little that could actually come out of the resolution, but he decided to back it. Mayor Jackson said he would support it because he saw the importance of keeping equal access to the Internet as paramount, adding that the Internet had long since become a utility following its availability for civilian use in the early nineties.
The council passed Deputy Mayor Spiller’s resolution 5-0, with both Councilors Hurlock and Schlager abstaining. Councilor Schlager said she was uncomfortable with voting for it because she wanted more information about it. Ironically, lack of information was the reason both councilors voted against a resolution committing the township to join the Sustainable Essex Energy Alliance Energy Procurement Cooperative, a group buying electricity generated in an environmentally friendly way for the electricity customers of participating Essex County communities. Neither Councilor Hurlock nor Councilor Schlager believed the cooperative would be transparent with regards to its energy aggregation methods.
Public comment was light, but parking issues came up in that forum. Resident Al Cernardis said he’d gotten ticketed four times for parking after 8 a.m. in his off-street permit space, although he had been led to believe that his permit allowed him to park between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. He’d been told that the 16-hour limit had been reduced to 15 hours, the 8 a.m. hour lopped off, but he got the tickets reversed in municipal court. But Cernardis said that the Web site still said permit parking was allowed between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., and he saw the reduced hours as a secret money grab. Mayor Jackson said the ordinance pertaining to permit parking was never changed, and Karasick backed him up. Cernardis said he was certain that the ordinance had been amended to extend the hours, but the mayor said that there was obviously a “snafu” some place. He told Cernardis the council would try to clarify the matter.
The council also brought up for second reading an ordinance setting various rates for towing and storing illegally parked cars. Section 2 of the ordinance states that the fee for “towing out of and into the Township must be agreed to, in writing, by the owner of any vehicle to be towed before said vehicle is towed.” Councilor McMahon said that there are many reasons why an owner might not be present, and Karasick said the car owner is usually around for out-of-town towing situations. Section 2 is a re-affirmation of existing municipal law. But Karasick said that the details could be looked into later. The ordinance passed unanimously.
Montclair Council also discussed news of a new liquor license for Montclair, bringing the town total up to 13. Read more here.