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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talks net neutrality at KEXP. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has raised his national profile in recent months by taking aim at President Donald Trump, fueling speculation that he’s making a play for the presidency in 2020. He kept up that drumbeat at an event in Seattle Tuesday night, where he spoke on a panel about net neutrality.

When asked about legal challenges to Washington state’s landmark net neutrality law, Inslee said, “Bring it on. If the president sues us, we’ll be ready.”

Inslee spoke at radio station KEXP with panelists from the tech, non-profit, art, and government sectors about the importance of maintaining unfettered internet access. The panel was part of Techstars Seattle Startup Week, a series of events held throughout the city over the next few days.

Shortly after the Federal Communications Commission repealed regulations known as net neutrality in December, Inslee launched a plan to preserve open internet protections for residents of Washington state. It involved an executive order and a bill introduced by state Rep. Drew Hansen, who also sat on the panel Tuesday.

“At the state level, we’re still, to some extent, a functioning democracy and if you get a broad bipartisan coalition around standing up for a free and open internet, as it turns out, you can actually get that written into state law,” Hansen said.

From left: Gov. Jay Inslee, musician Sera Cahoone, and Washington state Rep. Drew Hansen. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Inslee signed that bill into law in February, requiring all internet providers that operate in Washington state to uphold net neutrality principles, prohibiting them from creating fast and slow lanes.

With that action, Washington became the first state in the nation to enact its own net neutrality law. It set a trend for a handful of other states, including California, which passed its own law earlier this month. The U.S. Department of Justice immediately filed a lawsuit claiming the law “unlawfully imposes burdens on the Federal Government’s deregulatory approach to the Internet.”

The DOJ isn’t pursuing any other states with net neutrality laws but the California lawsuit could set a precedent for future litigation. That worries Moz CEO Sarah Bird, who also sat on the panel Wednesday.

“The ability of an [internet provider] to determine who will succeed in the marketplace and who will be punished, put in the slow lane, is giving up something so profound I think it’s hard for some of us to really even wrap our heads around,” she said. “You’re making them kingmakers if we don’t have legislation that prevents them from discriminating.”

Ultimately, Inslee and the other panelists would like to see a federal law protecting open internet principles because policies of agencies like the FCC are subject to the political whims of each administration.

Internet providers like Verizon have vowed to uphold net neutrality principles without the need for federal regulation. But some internet users have already reported throttled service, including a California fire department battling a wildfire.

Inslee said the Nov. 6 election is the best opportunity to stand up for net neutrality. He urged audience members to “go to your social network, which is still free and unfettered and unblocked because of our net neutrality bill” and “take personal responsibility to get everybody to vote.”

“We’ve got net neutrality,” Inslee said. “This is the perfect way to use it. Get all your friends to vote.”

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