Residents of Washington state are getting net neutrality rules back, with the nation’s first state law that prevents internet service providers from blocking and slowing down content online.
The law, signed Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is the most sweeping state action so far against new federal rules that strip away regulations on how high-speed internet providers handle digital data. The dismantling of the nationwide rules, approved by the Federal Communications Commission in 2017, set off a fierce outcry from consumers and tech companies.
Opponents of the change in the federal regulations fear that without strong rules, internet service providers will create faster and slower lanes online to extract fees for better service. The FCC said it got rid of the rules because they restrained broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast from experimenting with new business models and investing in new technologies.
The Washington state law, which goes into effect June 6, bars internet service providers from blocking websites or charging more for faster delivery of certain sites in a way that benefits the broadband company and partner websites.
The new law is one of several efforts to counter the FCC change. Lawmakers in about two dozen states have introduced bills similar to Washington’s. And multiple governors, including in New York and Montana, have signed executive actions that prohibit internet service providers with state contracts from blocking or slowing data on their lines.
Several lawsuits against the FCC have also been filed, including by consumer groups and numerous state attorneys general. Another suit was filed Monday by tech companies such as Etsy, Foursquare and Kickstarter.
But the law in Washington state goes further by immediately putting back into place consumer protections provided by the 2015 federal rules. The law passed with broad bipartisan support in the state Legislature.
“At the core of our action today is consumer protection,” Inslee said in an interview. “States need to act because under the Trump administration, we have seen citizens, including 7 million in Washington, stripped of core protections like the open internet.”
The actions by the states, both the executive actions and the new Washington law, are almost certain to end up in the courts. The FCC has asserted it has the only authority to oversee broadband internet services, because the data on the internet passes across multiple state lines. In the rules it passed in 2017 to reduce the regulations, the agency explicitly said states could not create their own rules.
Internet service providers could also sue Washington state to overturn its rules. The companies could also sue states whose governors have signed executive orders demanding net neutrality.