State leaders announce steps to protect net neutrality

Inslee, Ferguson and legislators prepared to push back against damaging federal actions

On the eve of an expected vote by the Federal Communications Commission to roll back crucial net neutrality rules, Gov. Jay Inslee joined Attorney General Bob Ferguson, legislators, and business leaders to announce state plans to preserve an open internet and protect Washington consumers from internet companies that are not transparent about costs or services.

“All Americans, as a matter of principle, should enjoy equal access to the educational, social and economic power of the internet. Ensuring this important technology remains free and unfettered is critical both to our personal freedoms and to our country’s economy,” Inslee wrote in a letter to the FCC earlier this month.

From left, Andrew Sullivan of Sub Pop Records, Moz.com CEO Sarah Bird, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Gov. Jay Inslee, Rep. Drew Hansen, Rep. Norma Smith and Sen. Manka Dhingra attend a press conference on Washington state’s actions to protect net neutrality rules Dec. 13 in the Governor’s Conference Room in Olympia. (Governor’s Office Photo)

“The internet has become an unparalleled economic engine, generating millions of new jobs while providing even the smallest businesses in the United States access to a global marketplace. We should not be taking steps that undermine its core purpose. This is as critical as freedom of speech.”

Gov. Jay Inslee visits coding students at Shoultes Elementary School in Snohomish County in March. Access to technology education, as well as a free and open internet, are key to Washington’s innovation economy. (Governor’s Office photo)

In the letter, the governor stated that all internet service providers (ISPs) should honor and uphold the open foundation of the internet by adhering to certain principles, including: free flow of information over the internet; no blocking of lawful websites; no unreasonable discrimination of lawful network traffic; no paid prioritization; and clear commitment to transparency.

While the FCC’s vote will preempt states from ensuring full net neutrality, there are a number of steps that can be taken at the state level to promote an open internet and strengthen protections for consumers.

Inslee’s proposal, which makes Washington state the first in the nation to act on net neutrality, includes pursuing the following actions:

Hold companies to their commitments not to block websites, throttle speeds, or impose prioritization pricing

  • Direct the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to establish a process for ISPs to certify that they will not engage in practices inconsistent with net neutrality principles.
  • Limit state-conferred benefits to ISPs that have made such certifications.
  • Limit applicability of UTC pole attachment rules to ISPs that are net neutral.
  • Review other state-conferred benefits such as easements and taxes.

Leverage the state’s power as a large purchaser of ISP and telecommunications services

  • Use the state government’s role as a big customer, and our ability to establish state master contracts used by local governments, to incentivize Washington companies to adhere to net neutrality principles.
  • Pursue regulatory and legislative action to award contracts to vendors that meet net neutral business requirements.
  • Lead the exploration of a multi-state purchasing cooperative to procure internet service from providers that adhere to net neutrality principles.

Hold companies accountable for warranties made to consumers

  • Create a state-wide internet speed test. This will allow Washingtonians to test their own broadband speed at home, and submit the test to help appropriate state agencies determine what internet speeds consumers are receiving and where companies may be blocking or throttling.
  • Collaborate with legislators to strengthen our consumer protection laws to include the principles of net neutrality.

Encourage new entrants into the currently concentrated ISP market

  • Pursue legislation authorizing public utility districts and rural and urban port districts to provide retail ISP and telecommunications services.
  • Prohibit government-owned ISP services, such as municipal broadband networks, from engaging in blocking, throttling, or priority pricing for Internet services.

While announcing the plan this morning, Inslee was flanked by Ferguson, Reps. Drew Hansen and Norma Smith, Sen. Manka Dhingra, Moz.com Chief Executive Officer Sarah Bird, and Sub Pop Recordings Information Technology Director Andrew Sullivan.

“Literally no one except the giant cable companies thinks it’s a good idea for the giant cable companies to get to decide what content you see on the internet, how fast it loads, and how much you have to pay for it,” Hansen said.

“We know Net Neutrality to be critically important to our core business and crucial to the livelihood of the bands, artists and musicians we work with and support,” said Frank Nieto of Sub Pop. “Equal and unfettered access to internet resources is as essential to artists as electricity is to a brick and mortar record store or radio station. To avoid unfairly disadvantaging the independent creative community, the FCC must maintain strong, clear rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. Anything less would be a direct threat to the culture that sustains us all.”

“With so much craziness going on right now, it’s easy to lose sight of this important issue. To have the commercial, civic, and artistic world we want, strong net neutrality protections are needed. We can’t let ISPs become king makers,” said Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz. com

“We will make net neutrality rules to protect Washington consumers and businesses,” Inslee said. “I look forward to working with legislators and the attorney general on the parameters of our actions, but make no mistake, we are moving forward on net neutrality in this state.”

Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who was unable to attend the event but has been a leader on net neutrality, said the steps put forward by the governor, combined with other proposals in the Legislature, reinforce the “moral and policy clarity” that Washingtonians stand for free and open access to the internet.

“It is our right as a state to prevent a reckless and power-intoxicated federal government from handing over access to the free flow of information to the largest corporations on this planet,” Carlyle said. “Net neutrality isn’t a department down the hall or a footnote by a nameless, faceless bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., it’s a 21st century version of America’s town square, and we’re here to defend democracy itself.”

Inslee’s leadership on protecting internet freedom extends to his time in Congress and has continued throughout his time as governor.

Watch a video of Inslee discussing his support for net neutrality: