From Facebook to news sites, it’s impossible to overestimate the power and reach of the internet, which is why the unraveling of net neutrality regulations are potentially disastrous.
In a 3-2 vote Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to dismantle regulations that allowed the federal government to regulate the internet like a utility and compels providers to offer equal access to web content without charging more for higher-quality service or blocking content.
State Rep. Norma Smith (R-Langley) is part of a bipartisan group of state lawmakers and officials, including Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who want to restore a free and open internet, at least in the state. They are taking several different tacts. Inslee is directing state spending to companies that adhere to net neutrality rules. Ferguson is talking about a lawsuit.
Smith introduced a bill that would give the attorney general the power to enforce net neutrality rules through the state’s Consumer Protection Act.
It’s both a commendable and smart move by Smith, who was joined by lawmakers from other states with similar bills. It’s unclear at this point whether those bills are merely symbolic or will have a real effect. The question of whether states can regulate the internet will have to be decided by the courts unless Congress acts.
And Congress should act.
The internet has been a great egalitarian space, sort of a Wild West with plenty of good and bad. Without net neutrality rules, however, corporations that provide broadband service could wield unprecedented influence over the internet. A company could choose to censor or slow access to sites it does not like. It could stifle innovation in other companies by blocking specific apps or online services.
Or it could jack up prices.
Officials at broadband providers claim they are in favor of the elements of net neutrality, but they just don’t like the manner in which it’s regulated. There may be some fixes to rules that can be done, but allowing the companies to go unregulated is not the answer. It’s a recipe for disaster.