Net Neutrality

California Lawmakers Hug Net Neutrality

In a move that will likely touch off more nasty legal battles, the California State Senate overwhelmingly passed strong net neutrality legislation Wednesday despite fierce opposition from big ISPs, including AT&T and Comcast.

The re-regulation bill -- which passed the heavily Democratic State Senate by a 23-12 vote on Wednesday and now heads to the State Assembly for its expected approval -- is California's response to the move by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to eliminate the current federal rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of Internet content by ISPs. Barring the highly unlikely restoration of the national net neutrality rules by Congress and President Trump over the next two weeks, the federal rules are set to expire on June 11. (See Senate Vote Says Net Neutrality Can Stay Around a Little Longer and FCC Nixes Net Neutrality Rules on June 11.)

Known as SB 822, the California bill would amend state law by adding several online practices to the state's Consumers' Legal Remedies Act's definition of "certain unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices" in the provision of goods and services in the state." Under the bill, those unfair methods would now include blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of web content, as well as paid zero-rating plans.

Also, SB 822 would restrict access to the state's Universal Service Fund broadband subsidies to ISPs that abide by the proposed net neutrality rules. Further, the bill would apply the net neutrality concept to network interconnections, just as the then-Democratic-controlled FCC did when it passed the Obama-era Open Internet Order in 2015, but which the currently Republican-controlled FCC has reversed.

Predictably, net neutrality supporters hailed the California Senate's passage of the legislation, which enjoyed strong grassroots support in the nation's largest state. Eric Null, policy counsel at New America's Open Technology Institute, called it a "huge win for consumers." Fight for the Future argued that "this victory in California shows that net neutrality is here to stay."

But, even if the State Assembly follows suit and Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill as expected, the matter won't be settled. That's because the FCC order eliminating the federal net neutrality rules pre-empts states from trying to impose the rules within their boundaries. So a classic states' rights court battle is brewing in Sacramento, especially if other states either follow California's legislative lead or require providers to adhere to net neutrality rules when they sign government broadband deals. Stay tuned for more. (See Net Neutrality: States' Rights vs. the FCC.)

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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