Ed-Tech Policy

Washington State Defies FCC and Passes ‘Net Neutrality’ Law

By Sarah Schwartz — March 06, 2018 2 min read
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Washington became the first state to pass a law to protect net neutrality, after Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill March 5 intended to prevent internet service providers from blocking or slowing online content in the state.

With this law, Washington joins a growing group of states that have put in place their own net neutrality rules, after the Republican-majority Federal Communications Commission repealed federal net neutrality protections in December. The Obama-era regulations prevented internet service providers from blocking or slowing apps, websites, and other online content, and from engaging in “paid prioritization"—essentially creating “fast” and “slow” lanes for internet content based on the ability to pay.

The new law reinstates these protections in Washington, and requires internet service providers doing business in the state to follow these regulations. The bill saw bipartisan support in the state legislature, passing with votes of 93 to 5 in the House and 35 to 14 in the Senate.

Inslee, a Democrat, addressed net neutrality’s relevance to K-12 schools in a statement Monday. “We’ve seen the power of an open internet. It allows a student in Washington to connect with researchers all around the world —or a small business to compete in the global marketplace,” he said.

School technology and library associations have raised concerns that internet service providers may restrict and slow internet service to schools and districts—many of which only have access to one provider, and wouldn’t be able to comparison shop if their connection slows.

They’ve also said that the FCC’s decision could limit the materials and tools that districts have access to. Smaller content providers and publishers that offer free, open educational resources may be priced out of the market if internet service providers are allowed to charge for faster delivery speeds.

“Before the FCC proposed changing net neutrality rules, this was not an issue,” said Tara Lee, a spokesperson for the governor, in an email to Education Week. “But now, carriers can choose to prioritize paid content over freely available content and schools really are at risk.”

(For more on the likelihood of internet service providers choosing to slow service to schools, see Sean Cavanagh’s article on what a net neutrality repeal means for K-12 districts.)

The governors of Montana and New York signed executive orders to maintain net neutrality in January, and at least 25 other states are considering bills to reinstate protections, Wired reported.

It’s unclear if these state rules are enforceable: A provision in the net neutrality repeal specifically prohibits states and localities from putting in place policies that contradict the FCC’s order. But it’s also possible that states could successfully challenge this provision in court. The FCC has lost in past attempts to block state laws regulating internet service providers’ activities.

Photo: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill on March 5 in Olympia, Wash., that makes Washington the first state to set up its own net-neutrality requirements in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent repeal of Obama-era rules. --Ted S. Warren/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.