Washington House passes bill to protect net-neutrality rules

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — In response to the Federal Communications Commission's recent repeal of net-neutrality rules, the Washington House on Friday passed a bill meant to ensure the state's residents don't see a disruption in internet service.

House Bill 2282 passed on a strong bipartisan 93-5 vote and now heads to the Senate for consideration. Under the measure, internet providers are prohibited from blocking content or impairing traffic. The bill also would require providers to disclose information about their management practices, performance and commercial terms. Violations would be enforceable under the state's Consumer Protection Act.

"Net neutrality has worked very well to protect a free and open internet," said Democratic Rep. Drew Hansen of Bainbridge Island, the bill's sponsor. "We are going to keep those protections in place in Washington state even after they go away at the national level."

The FCC voted in December to gut the Obama-era rules that meant to prevent broadband companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from exercising more control over what people watch and see on the internet.

Big telecom companies have said the regulations could undermine investment in broadband and introduced uncertainty about what were acceptable business practices. Net-neutrality advocates say undoing these rules makes it harder for the government to crack down on internet providers who act against consumer interests and will harm innovation.

Ron Main, executive director of the Broadband Communications Association of Washington, said in a written statement that the group's 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."

Main wrote that because the internet is an interstate service, only Congress can pass legislation to "enshrine these principles in federal law."

Last month, Washington was among more than 20 states and the District of Columbia who sued to try and block the FCC's action. There are also efforts by Democrats to undo the repeal in Congress, and Washington is among several states that have introduced bills to protect net neutrality in their own states. However, the FCC's order bars state laws from contradicting the federal government's approach.

Hansen questioned their authority to pre-empt local state consumer protection laws.

"We don't know what will happen in court," he said on the House floor. "But the states traditionally have very broad consumer protection authority and that's what we're exercising here."

The FCC's new rules are not expected to go into effect until later this spring.

Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said that while he agrees with the principles of the bill, he voted against it because of concerns about running afoul of federal law and his belief that there needs to be a single national policy on the issue.

"Websites don't end at state lines, and I believe a patchwork of 50 different regulations is going to lead to much worse outcomes for users," he said after the vote.

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