The Gristle

Neutral Ground

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

NEUTRAL GROUND: In times of slim majorities and deep paralysis in decision-making, journalists search for policy matters on which there appears to be consensus, and even agreement, as a flickering indicator that parties and politics can actually come together to achieve public goals. One of these issues appears to be “net neutrality.”

Net neutrality as a concept discourages internet service providers from throttling the kinds of content you’re able to access online by placing a premium or surcharge on the speeds at which their service delivers such content. Instead, service providers have to treat all traffic sources equally. Net neutrality is enforced by the Federal Communications Commission.

In April 2015, the FCC strengthened new rules that reclassified broadband services as telecommunications, which made the internet something of a “common” good, similar to telephone services. This barred internet providers from discriminating against certain forms of content, such as those that might compete with a company’s own.

In December, the FCC under new imperatives to roll back the work of the previous administration voted to repeal the Obama-era rules and essentially brought an end to net neutrality in the United States, prompting criticism from public officials, content-streaming “edge service” providers like Netflix and the FCC commissioners who voted against the repeal.

Democrats in Olympia have teamed with a few willing Republicans to push back against the FCC through a number of bills designed to protect net neutrality in Washington.

Senate Bill 6423 would reinstate net neutrality restrictions on internet service providers in an effort to prevent censorship and charge different rates, or “throttling.” The bill recently received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment & Technology, a committee Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) chaired until a reshuffling of leadership this year.

One of the more outspoken proponents of net neutrality is Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island), who serves on the committee with Ericksen. Ranker helped sponsor SB 6423, which would prohibit internet service providers from exercising “deceptive” tactics and impairing or blocking legal web content.

The lower House of Representatives, meanwhile, is blessed with a few Republicans who also believe net neutrality is not a partisan issue.

Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, “this is an issue that needs to matter to everyone,” said Rep. Norma Smith, a Whidbey Island Republican.

She teamed with Bainbridge Island Democrat Drew Hansen to sponsor a bill that would ensure net neutrality in Washington state.

When each lawmaker discovered the other was at work on a similar, separate bill to strengthen the state’s regulatory control of net-neutrality regulations, they joined forces. Their two bills now mirror each other. The Appropriations Committee planned a hearing on the bills and one of the two identical bills will likely move into the House for a vote.

“The existing net-neutrality laws have served us well and kept [the internet] from being controlled by monopolists,” Hansen told the Seattle Times. “Net-neutrality protections help everyone: entrepreneurs, consumers, teachers, everyone.”

“We’re in a situation now with net neutrality where businesses would be able to throttle up or throttle down the internet in ways that would affect everybody,” Ranker said. “A vast, vast supermajority of Washingtonians do not want these things unregulated.”

A less aggressive bill was sponsored by Republican Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), who now chairs the committee formerly suffocated by Ericksen. More laissez-faire, Senate Bill 6446 would require that providers publicly disclose network management practices and commercial terms of broadband internet services. The disclosure would have to be “timely” and “sufficient” to afford consumers the ability to make informed decisions when selecting a provider.

From the administrative branch of state government, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit within hours of the FCC decision in December. His action would quickly be joined by counterparts in 21 other states and the District of Columbia.

“Allowing powerful special interest to act as the internet’s gatekeepers harms consumers, innovation and small businesses,” Ferguson said. “We believe the FCC acted unlawfully when it gutted net neutrality, and I look forward to holding the FCC accountable to the rule of law.”

“One of the most crucial foundations of our democracy is free speech, and in the modern age that has to include the principle of equal and unfettered access to the internet,” Gov. Jay Inslee commented at a legislative preview event Jan. 4. “This is yet one more example where we have to seize our own destiny, protect our own people, when there is a failure to do so in Washington, D.C.”

There’s even some early talk of bringing the Washington Transportation and Utilities Commission into the discussion to regulate the ISP industry as a public utility. The UTC—a commission originally chartered to push back against railroad and electric utility monopolies—would play a guidance role similar to that of the FCC.

At the federal level, Senate Democrats, including U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray have vowed to support legislation to overturn the FCC vote. Their action has the support of 49 Democrats in the United States Senate. The Democrats, along with a small number of Republicans who view net neutrality as an issue of free speech, intend to bring the matter to a vote later this year.

The combined effort is a hopeful glimmer that it’s possible to push back against federal overreach and find neutral ground to pursue reasonable policy goals that align with the public’s interest.

FCC Advent
Past Columns
Paradigms in Collision

November 28, 2018

Leftover Turkey

November 21, 2018

The Divisions Between Us

November 14, 2018

The Map is the Territory

November 7, 2018

Climate Kids

October 31, 2018

What The Market Won’t Bear

October 24, 2018

As Above, So Below

October 17, 2018

As Below, So Above

October 10, 2018

A Civil Disagreement

October 3, 2018

Zombie Pipeline

September 26, 2018

Too Little, Too Late

September 19, 2018

Open Secret Disclosed

September 12, 2018

Consent of the Governed

September 5, 2018

Let the People Decide

August 29, 2018

3-in-1 Oil

August 22, 2018

A Deeper Dive

August 15, 2018

Blue Wave Stalls Offshore

August 8, 2018

Mountains of Our Efforts

August 1, 2018

Events
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The Giving Tree

10:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

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3:30pm|Lynden Library

Bellingham Mysterians

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Women's Snowshoeing Basics

6:00pm|REI

All-Paces Run

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Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

Comedy Open Mic

7:30pm|Shakedown

Amahl and the Night Visitors

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Portland Cello
Tomorrow
The Giving Tree

10:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Amahl and the Night Visitors

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Coat Drive

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Lynden Front Streeters

2:00pm|Village Books

Hiking and Beer

5:00pm|Growlers Keep

The LIghts of Christmas

5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

Histories & Mysteries Book Club

6:30pm|Everson Library

Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Carols and Old Songs with Evan Ingalls

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

The Mark Taylor Quartet

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Intro to Improv

7:00pm|Improv Playworks

VoicePlay Stomp
Thursday
The Giving Tree

10:00am|Village Books

Coat Drive

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

The LIghts of Christmas

5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Valley Crafters Holiday Bazaar

10:00am|Deming Presbyterian Church

Winter Wear Drive

10:00am|Community Food Co-op

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Poetry Writing Group

5:30pm|Village Books

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

White Elephant Incognito Dinner

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Ballet Bellingham presents The Nutcracker

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Journey's Christmas

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Noel Noir

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Naughty List, A Holiday Cabaret

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

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