Gov. Jay Inslee signed a “net neutrality” bill into law last week that seeks to keep Internet access more equal for consumers and businesses. It is a worthy step toward correcting a mistake by the Federal Communications Commission, which may lead to unwanted favoritism in the delivery of Internet services.
Once House Bill 2282 takes effect, Washington internet service providers will be expressly forbidden from favoring some customers over others by speeding up or slowing traffic to benefit favored customers.
The Washington law is the first of its kind in the nation, so how it plays out against the FCC action to repeal “net neutrality” rules nationally is still in question. The FCC rule, adopted on a partisan vote by the five appointed commissioners in December, could favor huge tech firms that hold virtual market monopolies.
In our state equal access to web services can be a life and death matter for smaller start-up tech firms that cannot compete with firms able to pay for faster Internet lanes.
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What is instructive about our state’s response was the bipartisan push behind it. HB 2282 was sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, and had bipartisan co-sponsors including Republican Reps. Norma Smith of Clinton. The measure, which passed on large supermajority votes, had support from tech industry firms.
The Legislature’s approach is clear proof that net-neutrality is not inherently a partisan issue. This should signal to Congress that it can act to override the FCC with a single national policy that protects consumers and is done in a way that avoids the partisan bickering that dominates the Other Washington.
Advisers to Inslee say they believe the state law, which empowers the attorney general to act under the state Consumer Protection Act, is a reasonable path to move toward keeping Internet access open after the FCC rule takes effect. The state law takes effect June 6.
A few other states like California are considering new laws like Washington’s. In Montana, the governor issued an executive order barring service providers that do business with that state’s government from throttling internet speeds.
The FCC action is also under attack in court. Washington is one of more than 20 states that sued in January to overturn the repeal of the Obama-era “net neutrality” rules.
Some major internet providers have said they do not intend to throttle internet services, but Washington consumers may have to look hard for proof their service provider is cheating.
That is why staffers at WaTech, the public agency that oversees state government’s data needs, are looking for free web tools to help consumers test the speed of their Internet speeds. In response to one of the governor’s initiatives, WaTech policy expert Will Saunders said he is identifying and studying free software developed by academics that could be adapted. These applications include tools developed overseas to detect when a hostile government has interfered with web traffic.
So far, Saunders has identified a few open-source prototypes and is mulling how to modify these applications so they are more user-friendly or even fun. One idea he’s kicking around is how to tap into the talent of volunteers and computer science students to get that done.
We think Saunders’ idea of asking the public for help is something the public should get behind enthusiastically.
Just as important, voters need to put pressure on their members of Congress to follow suit with a national net-neutrality standard that protects consumers once and for all.
HOW THEY VOTED
The vote for House Bill 2282, the new Washington net-neutrality law, was 35-14 in the state Senate and 93-5 in the House.
South Sound consumers may want to take note of how their lawmakers voted. Among Senate members in districts overlapping Thurston County, Sens. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia) and Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) voted yes, while Sens. John Braun (R-Centralia) and Randi Becker (R-Eatonville) voted no.
In the House, only Republican Rep. J.T. Wilcox (Roy) voted against it. Those voting in favor were Democratic Reps. Beth Doglio and Laurie Dolan (both of Olympia) and Republican Reps. Richard DeBolt (Chehalis), Andrew Barkis (Thurston County), Dan Griffey (Allyn), Drew MacEwen (Union), and Ed Orcutt (Kalama).