Federal net neutrality regulations went away Monday, but internet users across the country may not notice any immediate changes. In Washington, a new state law says they shouldn’t, period.
The Federal Communications Commission’s decision last year to end certain rules designed to guarantee equal access to the internet was greeted by outrage from some tech companies, which service providers attempted to counter with assurances that nothing would change other than the unnecessary burdens of federal regulations.
A lawsuit from Washington and 21 other states is seeking to block the FCC’s decision, and Congress is considering legislation that would put the old rules into federal statutes. The Senate has passed a net neutrality bill, but the House hasn’t yet.
The Washington Legislature did, with Gov. Jay Inslee signing the nation’s first state net neutrality law on March 5; it took effect last week. Oregon passed its own law and California is debating one. Governors in some other states have taken executive action to set up similar rules.
“I think you would hope that a number of states taking action, either by legislation or executive order, would send a pretty strong message to the internet service providers,” state Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, said Monday. “They said they support net neutrality in principle … We’ll see if they were being candid with us.”
Here are some answers to common questions about the change in net neutrality policies:
What is net neutrality, anyway?: It’s a policy that essentially says internet service providers, the telecommunications companies that provide people and businesses with a way onto the internet, can’t play favorites. They can’t provide slower speeds for some websites and faster speeds for others, which would have the effect of giving companies operating those faster websites an advantage. It also means they can’t block lawful sites or slow down lawful internet traffic.
Who could be against that?: Some providers, known as ISPs, said they weren’t against the concept, but didn’t think it should be the province of FCC regulations. They said the regulations weren’t necessary, could restrict expansion of faster internet to underserved areas, and that consumers could be protected by the Federal Trade Commission.
What steps did Washington state officials take?: In December, Inslee issued an executive order threatening state sanctions against any ISP that limited access or selectively slowed service, which included consumer protection actions, loss of state contracts or asking the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to deny access to utility poles. Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined Democratic counterparts from other states in filing a lawsuit, which is pending.