The California State Senate today approved net neutrality rules that are even stricter than the federal regulations they’re meant to replace.
The California bill would replicate the US-wide bans on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization that were implemented by the FCC in 2015, and it would go beyond the FCC rules with a ban on paid data-cap exemptions.
The California Senate passed the bill by a vote of 23-12, with all 23 aye votes coming from Democrats and all 12 noes coming from Republicans. To become law in California, the bill also needs approval from the Democratic-majority State Assembly and Governor Jerry Brown, also a Democrat.
AT&T and a cable lobby group spoke out against the bill at committee hearing last month, with AT&T complaining that the bill “goes well beyond” the FCC rules. But the Democratic-majority Senate was not deterred by broadband-industry arguments.
“When Donald Trump’s FCC took a wrecking ball to the Obama-era net neutrality protections, we said we would step in to make sure that California residents would be protected from having their Internet access manipulated,” bill sponsor Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said in an announcement after the vote. “I want to thank the enormous grassroots coalition that is fighting tooth and nail to help pass [this bill] and protect a free and open Internet. We have a lot more work to get this bill through the Assembly, but this is a major win in our fight to reinstate net neutrality in California.”
The Senate just passed my bill protecting #NetNeutrality in California, #SB822. I’m deeply appreciative for my colleagues’ support of this effort to protect the internet. If our federal govt won’t protect a free & open internet, the States must step in. Now on to the Assembly …
— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) May 30, 2018
California’s Senate passed a different net neutrality bill in January, but it didn’t go through the Assembly. Wiener’s legislation “is the first state-level bill that would comprehensively secure all of the net neutrality protections that Americans currently enjoy,” according to Stanford law professor Barbara van Schewick.
Neutral access to the Internet
The bill’s core principle is that ISPs should “provide neutral access to the Internet” instead of “pick[ing] winners and losers by deciding (based on financial payments or otherwise) which websites or applications will be easy or hard to access, which will have fast or slow access, and which will be blocked entirely,” Wiener’s announcement said.
Besides the core rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, Wiener’s bill “prohibits misleading marketing practices and enacts strong disclosure requirements to better inform consumers,” his announcement said.
Wiener’s bill had support from three former FCC commissioners, including former Chairman Tom Wheeler; dozens of small businesses; labor unions; public interest groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation; State Attorney General Xavier Becerra; and the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, and other cities.
A similar bill is being considered in the New York legislature.
A big concern among net neutrality supporters is whether the broadband industry will be able to block state net neutrality rules in the court system. ISPs will argue that states are preempted by the FCC decision to eliminate nationwide net neutrality rules. But the FCC’s decision to restrict its own authority over broadband might give states the ability to impose regulations protecting their residents.