California’s Proposed Net Neutrality Bill Gains Steam

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Above photo: By Greg Nash.

A proposed net neutrality bill in California advanced this week, when lawmakers on the state Senate Committee approved the measure.

The bill (SB 822), introduced last month by state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would restore the Obama-era net neutrality rules in the state by prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic, and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery. The California measure would also restrict Internet service providers’ ability to exempt some material from consumers’ data caps, and would limit some forms of paid “interconnection” agreements that involve companies like Netflix paying broadband carriers to interconnect directly with their network.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill on Wednesday by a 5-2 vote. Last week, the state Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee cleared the measure, which will now move to the Appropriations Committee.

California is among dozens of states that is considering passing net neutrality rules in response to last year’s decision by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal the Obama-era regulations. Already, governors in six states — Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Montana, Hawaii and Vermont — have signed orders requiring broadband carriers to adhere to the Obama-era net neutrality rules as a condition of contracting with state agencies. A seventh state, Oregon, recently passed a law that similarly prohibits state agencies from contracting with broadband providers that violate net neutrality principles.

The state of Washington recently passed a more comprehensive net neutrality law that prohibits broadband providers operating in the state from blocking or throttling traffic and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.

Proponents of net neutrality rules say they are necessary to prevent broadband providers from engaging in censorship, and from harming competitors. But current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said he considers the Obama-era rules “heavy-handed,” and argued that they depressed investment.

In California, Weiner’s proposed bill picked up support from state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and advocacy groups like the Center for Democracy & Technology, Fight for the Future and Public Knowledge.

Broadband providers in California oppose the measure. The trade group California Communications Association argued to lawmakers that a “national regulatory framework and enforcement policy is better suited for a service that crosses state boundaries,” according to an¬†analysis¬†prepared by the state Judiciary Committee.

The California Cable and Telecommunications Association makes a similar argument. “Allowing state or local regulation of broadband Internet access service could impair the provision of such service by requiring each ISP to comply with a patchwork of potentially conflicting requirements across all of the different jurisdictions in which it operates,” the cable lobby argued, according to the Judiciary Committee’s report.

The broadband industry recently vowed to challenge laws passed by individual states. When the FCC voted to repeal the net neutrality rules, it also voted to block states from passing their own versions of the regulations. It’s not yet clear whether that prohibition will be upheld in court.