RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK  – The continuing debate about “net neutrality” took more interesting twists on Wednesday with the state of New York and AT&T stepping up the debate.

New York state says it will require internet providers to observe net neutrality or risk losing eligibility for state contracts under an executive order issued Wednesday by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The new policy aims to protect consumers by using the state’s lucrative information technology contracts as leverage over internet companies. It’s similar to one enacted through executive order Monday by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana and comes as states consider how to respond after the Federal Communications Commission last month repealed its own net neutrality policy.

Attorneys general for 21 states and the District of Columbia also have sued to block the repeal of the federal policy, which had banned companies from interfering with web traffic or speeds to favor certain sites or apps. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, is leading the lawsuit.

“The FCC’s dangerous ruling goes against the core values of our democracy, and New York will do everything in our power to protect net neutrality and the free exchange of ideas,” said Cuomo.

New York state legislators had pushed for the new policy as a simpler alternative to proposals to impose state regulations on internet companies. Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, an Albany Democrat, announced legislation this week that would mandate net neutrality for internet companies doing business with local governments in addition to state governments. Fahy said there’s still a need for her bill even after Cuomo’s executive order. A Cuomo spokesman said the governor supports her proposal.

In a statement, AT&T said that while it does not “throttle or degrade” web traffic it opposes attempts to create state-based internet regulations that would “confuse consumers, harm competition and impede innovation and investment.”

The Cable Telecommunications Association of New York issued a similar statement on behalf of its members, saying it supports a bipartisan federal effort to address net neutrality.

“Internet Bill of Rights”

AT&T also called for Congress to settle the Internet debate by passing a federal net neutrality law.

In a newspaper ad and in an open letter published online, CNN reported that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said his company has suffered from regulatory whiplash. Various presidential administrations and government agencies have pursued wildly differing internet policies over the past decade.

“It is time for Congress to end the debate once and for all, by writing new laws that govern the internet and protect consumers,” Stephenson wrote.

He called for “Internet Bill of Rights” that guarantees net neutrality, an open internet, and privacy protection for customers. Stephenson also said the law should apply equally to all internet companies, CNN noted.