Attorney Marcus Harris discusses net neutrality on WKZO.com (see below for full interview)
WKZO Host: The State of Washington just became the first state to pass their own laws requiring protection of net neutrality. It somewhat flies in the face of a recent FCC decision. Here to talk about that with us and whether Michigan should follow suit, Marcus Harris is a software litigation attorney. Marcus, good morning to you.
Marcus Harris: Good morning. How are you today?
WKZO Host: I’m doing fine. Thank you so much for joining us. Net neutrality, first of all, this is a topic, I think, that causes people to stop, and pause, and try to figure out what this whole thing was. We all heard the stories about the FCC and net neutrality. What does this net neutrality mean to the average person who’s just going online to update their Facebook page?
Marcus Harris: Net neutrality really is the concept that you pay one price to your internet provider, and you have access to everything that is on the internet without really any restriction. You can access sites like Netflix, Hulu, anything that has a bandwidth intensive aspect to it. You don’t pay more to access that site anymore than you would to check your email or access Facebook, for example. That’s the concept in general. What the FCC has done is they recently enacted what they ironically, in my opinion, call the restoring the Internet Freedom Act, which will essentially change the entire landscape in a very significant way. I think your listeners need to be concerned about this because it has the impact of changing the way every one of us accesses the internet.
WKZO Host: As we mentioned, Washington State becoming the first state to pass their own laws requiring internet providers to protect net neutrality. Why did they do this, and can they get away with it?
Marcus Harris: Whether they can get away with it is a very interesting question, but why they did this is that the real impact that this FCC regulation or act is going to have is that it is going to result in a hodge-podge of internet fees. The way that you buy airline fees, or you purchase cable TV is really the way that we are predicting that you would access the internet. There’s going to be the fast lane price, which you’re going to pay more for versus the low end price, which is going to be more of a reasonably based fee to you. Based on your economic situation, your level of access, you’re going to have different types of interaction with the internet. I think that’s what Washington State’s House Bill 2282, which was signed earlier, last week, actually, is really trying to prevent. What the practical impact of it is is that Washington State will become an island of net neutrality to the extent that this FCC regulation passes some of the obstacles that are ahead of it.
Essentially, what Washington State has done is that they are requiring all companies, all ISP providers to disclose their content access practices. It prohibits those companies from blocking lawful content, impairing lawful content, or degrading that lawful content, all subject to reasonable data access management policies. Things that your cell phone provider does, limits your text messages and that kind of thing, that’s still going to be acceptable. Simply throttling you in order to degrade your Netflix account and make you pay more for that, that is not going to be on the table. That’s what Washington State fears, and that’s what this rule or this law rather, that Washington State has enacted, attempts to do.
WKZO Host: Marcus Harris, attorney, is with us on WKZO. Are other states considering following suit, and will that muddy the waters, so to speak, all the way around, if other states follow this?
Marcus Harris: They are. There’s bills that are working their way through various state legislatures. What you’re going to see is some kind of an inconsistent application to the extent that those bills become law. I will tell you that there isn’t any bill that is as restrictive or expansive as the Washington State law that was just enacted. Most of these other laws that states are considering would really just punish an ISP by preventing that ISP from doing business with that actual state government. It doesn’t go as far as Washington State does, but I think the concern that the federal government would have is that there’s going to be an inconsistent application across state lines.
WKZO Host: Do you see this, Marcus, heading for the courts, eventually?
Marcus Harris: Absolutely. It’s virtually guaranteed. All of these laws, even what the FCC has done, they’re all going to be challenged. They’re going to be challenged first. It will be the FCC regulation potentially is going to be challenged at the congressional level versus via congressional review. Then to the extent that it remains intact, I foresee an incredible amount of litigation. It’s really hard. Once people have had a taste of free rein internet access for years to now change that dynamic and restrict them. I foresee a very litigious future for the FCC and for attorneys general across the country.
WKZO Host: We have certainly not heard the last of net neutrality here in this country, obviously.
Marcus Harris: No, we have not.
WKZO Host: Litigation attorney Marcus Harris with us on WKZO this morning. Very interesting topic, thanks for sharing some insight on it with us. We appreciate it.
Marcus Harris: Absolutely, pleasure to talk to you.