Rep. Smith, R-Clinton, introduces net neutrality bill

The day before the Federal Communications Commission ended net neutrality, a Republican state congresswoman from Clinton introduced a bill aimed at protecting open internet in Washington state.

Rep. Norma Smith’s proposed legislation would give the state attorney general the authority to enforce net neutrality in Washington. House Bill 2284 uses the state’s Consumer Protection Act to prohibit internet service providers from blocking content, throttling traffic or favoring some traffic over others in exchange for money.

In an interview, Smith said net neutrality is an important issue with longterm consequences. It’s a question of fairness for consumers, “whose very personhood is being sliced into thousands of data bits and sold to the highest bidder” by corporations that will be able to wield unprecedented control over the internet.

“The consolidation of power is not good,” she said. “It’s not good for consumers. It’s not good for future generations. It’s just not good.”

Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, and two FCC Republican commissioners cast the votes to end the 2015 net neutrality regulations, while two other commissioners voted against the measure.

Smith is part of a team of bipartisan lawmakers and state officials who are exploring different ways to respond to the action. On Wednesday, Smith unveiled her bill at a joint press conference with Gov. Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Sen. Manka Dhingra, Rep. Drew Hansen and others. The group is also working with other states, she said.

Ferguson announced Thursday that he and prosecutors across the nation intend to file a legal challenge to the FCC’s decision. He said there is a strong legal argument that the action violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

“Allowing internet service providers to discriminate based on content undermines a free and open internet,” he said in a press release Thursday. “Today’s action will seriously harm consumers, innovation and small businesses.”

Inslee said he’s going to leverage the state’s purchasing power by having state government do business with telecom companies that adhere to net neutrality principles, among other measures.

Advocates for net neutrality say that a rollback of the regulations will mean high prices for internet services, will allow corporate leaders to slow down or censor news or information, and will stifle innovation by allowing the cable companies to hurt competitors by blocking specific apps or online services.

“It is our job to stand up for our constituents and defend them against harmful policies, no matter where they originate from,” Smith said. “This is not a partisan issue. The repeal of existing net neutrality rules would threaten fairness and freedom on the internet, and would make it harder for entrepreneurs and small business owners to compete in the global marketplace.”

Smith pointed out that broadband providers say they are in favor of net neutrality, but that the current regulations are burdensome. Smith argued that there are easy ways to fix the regulations without abandoning net neutrality.

Some officials argue that a state cannot preempt federal regulations on the issue, but Smith argues that the FCC did not have an explicit authority over the internet from Congress.

The U.S. Congress can and should fix the problem, Smith said.

In fact, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat representing Washington state and a senior member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology, joined with 15 colleagues to announce their plan to introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution that would undo the action by the FCC and restore the 2015 net neutrality rules.

“Today’s decision threatens our booming innovation economy,” Cantwell said in a press release. “It’s impossible to know where the next big companies will come from, which makes an open and free internet all the more important to innovators, entrepreneurs and job creators – especially in the tech-driven Pacific Northwest.”

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