The United States is definitely one country, not fifty. But states retain considerable power, including local government structures that mirror the federal government, except that they’re headed by a Governor rather than a President.
And the system of checks and balances, intended by the founders to stop the government from taking over the country, is replicated at state and local level too.
These things make it tough to get anything done around Congress and the Capitol, to the eternal bewailing of America’s compromise-obsessed political commentariat. But the situation definitely has its upsides too.
How the federalist government can work for its people
The relationship between different levels of government can sound like a snooze fest. And in the wrong hands it sure can be. But this is also how stuff actually gets done, so it’s worth propping your eyelids up and getting a basic grip on it.
Here’s the poli sci bit. It’s short.
US government is federalist. The state and federal governments both have jurisdiction.
See? Told you it was short.
The result is that in some circumstances, states can create laws that are at variance with federal law.
Which brings us to: the states and cities that are enacting local net neutrality legislation.
Can states have their own net neutrality?
After all, net neutrality is a positive regulation: repealing it results in less federal regulation over ISPs. In theory, states can regulate ISPs within their jurisdiction, whatever the FCC says, as long as they don’t violate the constitution.
But the FCC is wise to that – and that $600,000 bribe to Ajit Pai wasn’t meant to pay for half a job. The American internet user is meant to get completely stitched up for that kind of money.
So the FCC has passed rules mandating that states can’t impose their own net neutrality rules, at least not directly.
States are likely to fight that through the courts and may win. Meantime, they’re finding ways to legislate around the ban.
The states building their own net neutrality legislation
In Rhode Island, bills appeared in the state House and Senate simultaneously, promising that the state would only contract with ISPs that follow the core principles of net neutrality: no throttling, no fast lanes, no blocking.
In New York state a similar move was made even before the official repeal of net neutrality, and Washington state has a net neutrality bill moving through the legislature.
But perhaps ISPs are thinking they could continue to gouge and censor less tech-savvy residents of ‘heartland’ states with more supine legislatures.
Maybe. But maybe not – nearly half of all American states have some kind of net neutrality laws working their way through the state legislature.
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