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Washington to sue after FCC votes to repeal net neutrality

The FCC's new rules could usher in big changes in how Americans use the internet.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson address the media following a hearing about US President Donald Trump's travel ban at the US District Court in Seattle, Washington on March 15, 2017. (JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images)

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Thursday he will file a lawsuit against the FCC's decision to undo net neutrality rules implemented under the Obama administration. The vote was 3-2, with Republicans on the FCC board carrying the majority.

"Yesterday I sent a letter to the FCC asking them to delay their vote gutting net neutrality. Unfortunately, they did not, Ferguson wrote in a statement. "Today, I am announcing my intention to file a legal challenge to the FCC’s decision to roll back net neutrality, along with attorneys general across the country."

The FCC's new rules could usher in big changes in how Americans use the internet. The agency got rid of rules that barred companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon from playing favorites with internet apps and sites.

The broadband industry promises that the internet experience isn't going to change. But protests have erupted online and in the streets as everyday Americans worry that cable and phone companies will be able to control what they see and do online.

Tech companies big and small also fear what the changes could mean for the future of innovation online.

"The open and fair internet was the basis of hundreds of thousands of startups," said Brett Greene, founder of New Tech Northwest, a community builder for local tech companies.

Meanwhile, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argues the federal government was micromanaging the internet, calling the previous regulations "heavy handed."

"Returning to the legal framework that governed the internet from President Clinton's pronouncement in 1996 until 2015 is not going to destroy the internet," said Pai during Thursday's hearing.

However, critics of the move fear that the giant telecommunications companies and internet service providers will be able to manipulate web traffic and speed, creating hypothetical fast or slow lanes depending on how much you're willing to pay.

"The broadband companies in particular will have the power to basically put their competition out of business if they want to," said Greene who worries the rollback of regulations will put the little guy at a huge disadvantage.

"The companies that have more money will be able to do more just because they have those resources," Greene continued.

The lobbying group, U.S. Telecom push back against the criticism, claiming broadband providers remain committed to net neutrality.

Full statement

Reaction from Washington's congressional delegation to the FCC decision was mixed along party lines.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

"The heavy-handed rules from the Obama administration stifled investment in rural communities, like those in Eastern Washington, and created uncertainty for ISPs in meeting the requirements for those rules. What I want is for everyone to come to the table to find a bipartisan, legislative solution that will protect consumers while not harming investment, and free-market principles."

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.

“America has been a world leader in innovation in large part because we’ve benefited from a free and open internet, but we won’t remain at the top by adopting backward policies that hurt consumers,” DelBene said. “I strongly oppose the FCC’s decision to fully repeal net neutrality and allow internet service providers to influence the content users can see. Given the opportunity, internet service providers could block content and services or charge premiums for the kind of open access we’ve come to expect. There’s no question that today’s vote is a massive loss, both for consumers and for innovation.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

"Despite the pleas of millions of Americans, President Trump’s FCC voted to change the internet as we know it, and turn it into yet another money-making tool for large corporations."

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

“Today’s decision threatens our booming innovation economy,” said Senator Cantwell. “It’s impossible to know where the next big companies will come from, which makes an open and free internet all the more important to innovators, entrepreneurs and job creators – especially in the tech-driven Pacific Northwest.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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