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Washington State Laughs In The Face Of FCC Attempt To Prevent States From Protecting Net Neutrality

2Although the FCC recently repealed net neutrality on a national level, states are taking matters into the own hands, and while incumbent ISPs and the FCC are doing their best to prevent this, states like Washington don't seem particularly perturbed.


Guest post by Karl Bode of Techdirt

from the unicorns-at-the-fcc dept

In the wake of the FCC's net neutrality repeal, nearly half the states in the union are now in the process of passing new net neutrality rules. Some states are pushing for legislation that mirrors the discarded FCC rules, while others (including Montana) have signed executive orders banning states from doing business with ISPs that engage in anti-competitive net neutrality violations.

1Of course incumbent ISPs saw this coming, which is why both Verizon and Comcast successfully lobbied the FCC to include language in its repeal that tries to "preempt" state authority over ISPs entirely. But this effort to ban states from protecting consumers (not just from net neutrality violations) rests on untested legal ground, which is why some ISPs are also pushing for fake net neutrality laws they hope will preempt these state efforts.

So far, states aren't taking the FCC's threats very seriously.

Washington State for example became the first state in the union this week to pass net neutrality legislation (though Oregon is neck and neck). Washington's new law largely mirrors the discarded FCC rules by prohibiting the anti-competitive throttling and blocking of competitors, as well as "paid prioritization" deals that prevent ISPs from letting deep-pocketed content companies buy an unfair advantage over smaller companies and startups. Also like the FCC's rules, it carves out notable exemptions for "reasonable network management" -- as well as for the prioritization of legitimate services that may need it (medical, VoIP services).

Amusingly, the bill's sponsor doesn't appear particularly flummoxed by FCC restrictions on what states can and can't do:

"Just because the FCC claims it has the power to preempt state laws doesn’t mean that it actually does,” says (Drew) Hansen. “I can claim that I have the power to manifest unicorns on the Washington State Capitol lawn. But if you look outside right now, there are no unicorns."

ISPs have already started complaining that complying with an ocean of discordant state-level rules is hard on them, though that's something they might have wanted to give a little more thought to before lobbying to dismantle what were arguably (by international standards) pretty modest federal-level rules.

Note that's not to say state-level protections will be perfect. Many politicians are just trying to score political brownie points, and in many instances the rules will only be as good as those willing to actually enforce them. Several of them also are a little shaky on how they define "reasonable" network management, a term ISP lobbyists have a long, proud history of trying to redefine to include pretty much anything. Still, these are all problems that could easily been avoided by actually listening to the public, the experts, and the data and leaving the federal rules alone.