Washington State Passes Net-Neutrality Law, Legal Battle With FCC Expected

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has signed the first state law that will protect net neutrality in the void left by the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) decision to repeal its own federal protections.

The Washington law essentially replaces protections for Washingtonians that the FCC removed. It prevents internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling legal internet traffic. It also prevents ISPs from offering so-called "fast lanes," which would prioritize certain content over others.

However, the Washington law does not prevent providers from imposing data limits, and it does nothing to counter the practice of "zero rating," which enables ISPs who also are content providers to exempt their own content from a data limit rule. The FCC's protections had included both of these measures.

When the FCC repealed its net-neutrality rules in December, it attempted to head off any attempt by states to create their own net-neutrality rules.

On Monday, Gov. Inslee said at the signing of the bill that he was confident in his state's right to pass such a law. However, opponents to states creating their own net-neutrality laws suggest it is unlawful because, they claim, the internet is a service that crosses state lines. Therefore, opponents state only Congress can pass such a law.

A legal battle is expected.

The FCC has filed its repeal with the Federal Register, and its net-neutrality protections will officially end on April 23 despite state attorneys general from 21 states and Washington, D.C., filing a lawsuit in January.

While net neutrality is a controversially partisan issue at the federal level, the Washington law received bipartisan support. It passed with a vote of 93 to 5 in the state's House of Representatives and 35 to 14 in its Senate.

“The net neutrality rules have been protecting a free and open internet for some years now, and today’s vote shows we have broad bipartisan support for maintaining these protections for Washington consumers even after they go away at the federal level,” said Rep. Drew Hansen in a statement. Hansen is a Democratic representative of Bainbridge Island and the bill’s prime sponsor.

“This is not a partisan issue," said Rep. Norma Smith, a Washington state Republican representative. "This is about preserving a fair and free internet so all Washingtonians can participate equally in the 21st century economy,”

With Washington the first state to set its own net-neutrality laws, it's widely speculated that other states will follow. Governors in Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey, New York and Vermont have already issued executive orders that ban state agencies from ISPs that fail to commit to net-neutrality principles. Oregon has passed a bill to this effect, and Gov. Kate Brown has said she will sign it.

Many other states have stated they are considering net-neutrality legislation similar to Washington's. These states include Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

At the federal level, the Senate has created a proposal that would require the FCC to maintain its net-neutrality rules even though the commission has already repealed them. The measure has the support of every Democrat and Susan Collins (R-Maine). However, even if the bill passed through the Senate and House of Representatives, it likely would be vetoed by President Trump.

Washington state's net-neutrality law will go into effect on June 6.

About the Author

Timothy Johnson

Timothy Johnson is editor—digital for ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine. Reach him at timothy.johnson@necanet.org

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