Washington becomes first state in nation to enact net neutrality law

With yesterday’s bill signing, Washington became the first state in the nation to enact a net neutrality law. The Spokesman-Review reports,

Washington became the first state in the nation to require internet service be “net neutral” as Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bipartisan bill Monday afternoon.

The law, which will take effect in June, does not allow internet service providers to slow down service to some customers, block lawful sites or organizations or degrade lawful internet traffic. Internet providers will also be required to disclose information about their management practices, performance and commercial terms.

The Associated Press writes,

Washington state was among more than 20 states and the District of Columbia that sued in January to try and block the FCC’s action. There are also efforts by Democrats to undo the move in Congress.

Governors in five states — Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana and Vermont — have signed executive orders related to net-neutrality issues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The impact of the legislation is not altogether clear. As the AP writes,

Big telecom companies have said net-neutrality rules could undermine investment in broadband and introduce uncertainty about what are acceptable business practices. Net-neutrality advocates say the FCC decision harms innovation and make it harder for the government to crack down on internet providers who act against consumer interests…

Messages left Monday with the Broadband Communications Association of Washington, which opposed the bill, were not immediately returned.

But executive director Ron Main said last month that its member companies “have made legally enforceable public pledges that we do not take any action to block legal content; that we do not engage in throttling; that we do not discriminate; and that we will insure that our practices are transparent to all of our customers.”

As Wired magazine reports, the measure had significant bipartisan support and goes beyond the steps so far taken by other states.

The Washington bill enjoyed bipartisan support in the state legislature, with dozens of Republican lawmakers voting in favor of the new rules last month. The bill passed with a vote of 93 to 5 in the state House, and 35 to 14 in the Senate.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Norma Smith, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill in the House, said in a statementlast month. “This is about preserving a fair and free internet so all Washingtonians can participate equally in the 21st century economy.”

The governors of Montana, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Vermont have signed executive orders banning state agencies from doing business with broadband providers that don’t promise to uphold the principles of net neutrality. But Washington is the first state to pass rules that ban network discrimination.

Geek Wire interviewed  the governor. He told them,

Our attorney general will be alert to any violations of that, and we’re hopeful that it will be respected. We believe that the companies that respect this will certainly be appreciated by their consumers and if not, they’re going to end up on the short end of some legal action. We feel confident in our ability to move forward… This is, at heart, a consumer protection law and we are providing a mechanism to protect consumers from illicit behavior in the marketplace, and that’s where it’s at. At its very core function, that’s what this bill does. 

Northwest Public Broadcasting notes that some businesses are concerned about inconsistent regulations across the country.

The Oregon Legislature last week passed a more narrowly drafted measure to require companies doing business with state and local government to adhere to net neutrality. 
Telecom companies say a patchwork of state laws would be untenable for interstate internet traffic.

Although Washington got there first, this will likely not be the last we hear about the issue.