Update: I am very happy to report today, that the House rejected the dreaded amendments described in the original article below and on March 6th the Senate passed a bill without including them. Here is the final version of the bill. New Bill
The original article posted on March 4th is below:
There is some cause to celebrate, but greater cause to remain vigilant. The good news is that on February 27th, Washington state passed a historic and heroic bill to protect our First Amendment rights to information that the big telecoms, most notably Verizon, Comcast, CenturyLink and AT&T, attacked on December 14th with the help of the FCC. The net-neutrality struggle has been well documented. The bill, SHB-2282, protects open internet access in Washinton state. If enough states pass similar legislation, we may be able to negate the horrendous decision by the FCC to eliminate net-neutrality.
But we need to put a permanent end to the threat big anti-net-neutral telecoms pose to our First Amendment rights. While this bill is a step in the right direction, the reasons big telecoms attacked net-neutrality in the first place were based in greed and a shared unwillingness to provide quality service at a reasonable price. Their low-income options, and approach to the digital divide (the gulf between those who have access to computers and Internet and those who do not—often based on race, gender, education and income), are appalling. In case you’ve forgotten, the U.S. pays the highest price in the developed world per megabit. In fact, the big telecoms are already arguing for federal preemption as a way to override any state legislation to guarantee net-neutrality.
The long-term solution is to build community broadband networks provided by local net-neutral providers. Even heavy hitters like Harvard University have said it’s the most cost effective solution. Harvard Article
This brings us to the other two bills mentioned in the description above; bills that help our ports provide broadband services, HB-2664 and it’s less admirable Senate companion, SHB-2664-S. The House bill was originally introduced to remove one simple, outdated rule. That rule defined a rural port district as an area with an average population density of fewer than one hundred people per square mile. Bellingham’s rural areas have about one-hundred and one people per square mile, so we were just over the limit. Under the old bill, it was difficult to justify expanding broadband services through our port, which has multiple net-neutral providers available. When HR-2664 left the House, this restriction had been eliminated. This is where the modification of the bill should have ended.
Sadly, the Senate felt otherwise. They just couldn’t pass a simple bill that would have been good for the public without throwing a bone to their long time “friends” in the telecom industry. By the time the Senate was done with SHB-2664-S, it included several amendments. One amendment created a loophole allowing the telecoms to eliminate competition by Washington’s ports. The Amendment says, “A port district under this section may select a telecommunications company to operate all or a portion of the port district’s telecommunications facilities. For the purposes of this section, “telecommunications company” means any for-profit entity owned by investors that sells telecommunications services to end users. Nothing in this subsection is intended to limit or otherwise restrict any other authority provided by law.” SHB-2664 Amendment
The major problem with this amendment is that a port can choose only company to provide all services to rural areas.This would allow the creation, once again, of virtual monopolies for the exact companies who attacked net-neutrality and provided us with poor service in the first place. Further, neither of the bills included wording for Open Access, which would have required ports to allow any licensed ISP an opportunity to provide service. Open Access would increase choices and lower costs. If you are fortunate enough to have a good port commission, they may require Open Access, or something very similar. If not, this amendment creates a loophole that can lead to real abuse by less reputable lawmakers.
If you wonder why the Senate couldn’t just pass the bill the House sent them, watch the state Senate videos on the issue. Please note that the recordings are preceded by advertisements from Comcast and other corporate entities. That’s right, recordings of public proceedings are brought to you by the corporations that own your state government. In fact, the only speakers on the bill were from CenturyLink. Their representative gives a big thumbs-up to the amendment referenced above. Make no mistake, our government is very much owned by the big telecoms. Link To Video (12:35 for SHB-2664)
Your best hope is to keep an eye on your port commission and demand multiple, net-neutral, local providers from them. There is no good reason they shouldn’t offer multiple providers. If they don’t, they’re doing something underhanded.