Washington Opposes FCC, Enacts Own Net Neutrality Law

Washington became the first state to officially enact its own net neutrality protections, with Governor Jay Inslee signing the HB2282 bill on Monday. The legislature essentially preserves the spirit of the Title II regulations the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal in mid-December but doesn't classify Internet service providers as utility companies, which has been the telecom industry's main argument against the old rulebook. The newly enacted bill was a bipartisan effort that passed its drafting and voting phases in a relatively straightforward manner. The FCC is expected to attempt suing to have the bill proclaimed illegal, with its net neutrality repeal already containing a provision that supersedes state legislative rights on all matters related to protecting the open Internet. Opponents to the move are arguing the clause is unconstitutional and are set to clash with it in court later this year.

The FCC's repeal is hence yet to survive judicial scrutiny, with nearly half of the Attorneys General in the United States already suing to block its controversial order. After the federal regulator published the decision in the Federal Register in late February, it paved the way for the "Restoring Internet Freedom" act to enter into force on April 23. The FCC claims its decision will help foster job growth in the industry by encouraging investments and while the order is officially meant to maintain net neutrality, it doesn't include any legally binding provisions that would allow it to do so. By repealing the 2015 Title II protections, the FCC is allowing ISPs to discriminate against certain content by blocking or throttling it based on its source. Likewise, the lack of regulations allows wireless and broadband operators to sell "fast lanes," i.e. prioritize access to certain domains, regardless of what kind of speeds its customers are regularly paying for.

In practice, while the lack of net neutrality is unlikely to lead to a major service like Netflix being blocked, it would allow ISPs to demand extra cash from Netflix in order to not cap its streams at a certain resolution or speed, demand customers pay more in exchange for the same benefit, or both. Digital companies have hence been extremely critical of the legislation, calling for a federal intervention. Some wireless carriers like AT&T are advocating for the same move but want a federal net neutrality bill that would apply the same rules to both ISPs and websites, which critics argue isn't possible because many network operators are still enjoying what are effectively regional monopolies, whereas consumers have much more choice in regards to which websites and online services they want to use. ISPs pushing for a federal net neutrality bill also don't want such legislation to make selling prioritized access illegal.

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