Washington State Restores Net Neutrality Rules, Hitting Back at FCC

Net neutrality is back online in Washington State.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that restores a hotly debated—and recently repealed—set of protections for Internet users in the state. The new law prohibits broadband providers from slowing or blocking traffic to particular websites and Internet services. For consumer protection advocates and other net neutrality supporters, the bill’s passage represents a move toward preserving a “free and open Internet.”

Meanwhile, large telecommunications companies like Verizon (NYSE: VZ), Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), and AT&T (NYSE: T), which have argued they should have the ability to manage traffic on the networks they operate, are likely to oppose the Washington law.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality protections nationwide. The FCC’s repeal forbids state and local governments from passing their own net neutrality rules, which suggests there’s a good chance the Washington law will end up in the courts. (That hasn’t stopped legislators in dozens of U.S. states from putting forth bills to restore net neutrality where they live, according to a Geekwire report; Washington is the first state to enact its own protections.)

According to the law, Internet service providers (ISPs) in Washington must “publicly disclose information regarding the network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services.” The idea is that by requiring broadband companies to provide more transparency around how they handle traffic on their networks, the public will be able to know if their ISPs are “throttling,” or slowing, certain types of Web traffic.

The new national rules passed by the FCC aren’t expected to take effect until later in the spring, The Seattle Times reported, while Washington’s law is set to go into effect in June.

The FCC went forward with its repeal of net neutrality protections in December despite the fact that some polls indicated the overwhelming majority of voters supported keeping the rules.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai and others who oppose net neutrality claim requiring broadband companies to treat all Internet traffic the same discourages them from making new investments to expand or upgrade their networks.

Supporters of net neutrality argue that giving special treatment to particular ISPs could inhibit the rise of future Internet giants, as Susan Crawford, an attorney with expertise in communications policy, wrote in her 2013 book “Captive Audience.” Without net neutrality rules in place, an upstart social network may be forced into paying higher Internet usage fees than those paid by Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) or Instagram in their early days, Crawford writes.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, along with attorneys general from 21 other states and the District of Columbia, reportedly plan to sue over the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules.

Another court fight could also potentially play out between Washington and companies that provide broadband there. Those firms could file suit against the state for violating the language in the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality protections.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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