The Federal Communications Commission’s rollback of net neutrality was cemented today with the publication of the ruling in the Federal Register. The FCC voted to undo net neutrality in December. Two months from now, the Obama-era regulations will no longer prevent internet providers from prioritizing some sites over others.
Meanwhile, in the other Washington, state leaders have been mounting a defense against the policy change. A bill that would preserve net neutrality principles in Washington state has cleared the House, 93-5, and is working its way through the Senate. Rep. Drew Hansen, the bill’s sponsor, said he expects the bill to be voted out of committee in the Senate this week.
“This is a cause with overwhelming bipartisan support and it’s always nice to see something where Democrats and Republicans can work together to create some common sense consumer protections,” Hansen told GeekWire.
His bill would forbid broadband companies from blocking or slowing lawful internet traffic or allowing customers to pay for higher speeds. It would also require broadband companies to publicly disclose their business practices “sufficient for consumers to make informed choices.”
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson is also preparing a legal challenge to the FCC’s decision, as part of a coalition with attorneys general from 21 other states and the District of Columbia.
But Washington state may face an uphill battle. The FCC intends to block any local jurisdictions that try to establish their own net neutrality protections. During the vote to repeal the regulations, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said he would not stand for “a hodgepodge of state rules.”
Hansen thinks that is “nonsense.”
“The other 49 states could replicate my net neutrality bill in the next 12 months very easily and should,” he said. “Suddenly there wouldn’t be any possibility of a patchwork of state laws. The net neutrality protections are very, very simple … this is not something where you would have contradictory regulations in different jurisdictions.”
The rule published Thursday has a dedicated section to preempt states and local jurisdictions from passing de facto net neutrality laws. The FCC says it will “preempt any state or local measures that would effectively impose rules or requirements that we have repealed or decided to refrain from imposing in this order.” That includes laws that would require disclosure of business practices from internet providers, like the one moving through the Washington state legislature.
Telecom companies, like Comcast and Verizon, have repeatedly said they do not plan to slow or discriminate against lawful content. In a statement timed with the FCC’s December vote, Comcast said, “This is not the end of net neutrality.”
“Despite repeated distortions and biased information, as well as misguided, inaccurate attacks from detractors, our internet service is not going to change,” Comcast went on. “Comcast customers will continue to enjoy all of the benefits of an open internet today, tomorrow, and in the future. Period.”
But internet providers do say they oppose federal regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
“Well if they don’t oppose net neutrality protections then there would be no reason to file a lawsuit challenging Washington state’s net neutrality protections,” Hansen said. “So we will see in short order whether we should take them at their word about that or not.”