Mere minutes after the Federal Communications Commission on a split 3-2 vote ended net neutrality last week, Washington state’s attorney general filed suit to neutralize the FCC’s action on procedural grounds. Washington Governor Jay Inslee has an even more ambitious plan.
Inslee has come up with five options to force internet service providers in Washington to live up to net neutrality standards. Perhaps the most aggressive option is to empower Washington public utility districts to offer internet service and compete with big-league telecommunications companies.
Washington lawmakers – from both political parties – aren’t far behind. Bills have been introduced for the 2018 session that would forbid internet providers from throttling speeds or charging to prioritize traffic – two of the main concerns expressed by net neutrality supporters.
The FCC anticipated state-level resistance and added a preemption clause. That will be challenged, too. The main legal challenge will center on the FCC’s process, which included a public record featuring as many as 2 million bot-driven comments.
Oregon has joined with a number of other states in the legal challenge to FCC’s action and, given the state’s history on internet openness, may look at legislative options in 2018, too.
A sign of our digital times, the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality has stirred up greater national angst than the GOP-backed $1.5 trillion tax legislation or the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. However, net neutrality is no less politically polarizing. The FCC hearing room was cleared before the vote because of unruly protests.
Democratic opponents say repeal of net neutrality will signal the “end of the internet as we know it.” Republican supporters say the internet grew without a net neutrality rule, which was only adopted in 2015, and will continue to flourish after the rule is overturned. FCC Chairman Ajit Pat issued a video where he appears to mock critics. Comcast, one of the expected beneficiaries of net neutrality repeal, went to Twitter to say it wouldn’t violate net neutrality principles.
One of the leading defenders of net neutrality is Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. One of the best expositors of net neutrality repeal is Oregon GOP Congressman Greg Walden. Wyden says repeal is the equivalent of “trickle-down telecommunications.” Walden predicts innovation will continue to propel the internet and ensure competition.
Democrats warn small businesses, educators, telemedicine and rural communities may find themselves on internet “slow lanes.” FCC Commissioner Mike O’Reilly, a Republican, says fears expressed by critics are “guilt by imagination.”
All this for a nerdy issue that a few years ago nobody ever had heard about, but which underscores how important the internet has become to virtually every aspect of business, education, medicine, research, communications and social interaction.
We certainly haven’t heard the last of net neutrality. Court challenges, a push to reverse the policy in Congress, state legislative action and debate on the political trail in the 2018 elections all loom.