On eve of FCC decision, Inslee promises state action on net neutrality protections

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A day ahead of a vote by the Federal Communications Commission on a plan to undo the country's net-neutrality rules, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that he and other state leaders will take steps to protect consumers regardless of the outcome.

At issue is Thursday's planned vote on the plan put forth by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last month 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.

"Washington state will act under our own authority and under our own laws and under our own jurisdiction to protect the very important measure of net neutrality for all Washington citizens," he said. "We are not powerless."

The current rules, which ensure cable and phone companies don't manipulate traffic, were approved on a party-line vote by the FCC in 2015. A federal appeals court upheld the rules in 2016 after broadband providers sued. Now Republicans are the majority on the commission. 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.

Inslee, who was joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, detailed several steps the state planned to take, either through rule or legislation. Those steps include setting up a statewide internet speed test for consumers to use, having state government will do business with telecom companies that adhere to net neutrality principles, and prohibiting providers who are not net neutral from having access to utility poles.

A few bills have already been introduced seeking to prohibit internet service providers from violating net neutrality principles such as blocking content or impairing traffic. The legislative session begins Jan. 8.

Ferguson said that he has been speaking with other attorneys general around the nation and will be evaluating the outcome of the vote and "examining whether that rulemaking process followed the law."

He would not rule out litigation that may be taken by states if the vote goes as expected.