California Streamin': State Gets Tough on Net Neutrality
Billed as the toughest net neutrality legislation yet, the California State Assembly cleared a bill Thursday that aims to reverse the FCC's rollback of network neutrality rules in June. (See FCC Nixes Net Neutrality Rules on June 11.)
Passing via a 59-18 vote, the California bill, authored by Democratic State Senator Scott Wiener, now heads to a Senate vote and then ultimately to Governor Jerry Brown (D). If things go that far, it's expected to set up a legal challenge by the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) .
In its tough stance on network neutrality, the California bill prohibits ISPs from blocking or throttling data. But it also goes further by snuffing paid interconnection deals and putting the kibosh on so-called "zero-rating" policies that exempt some traffic from data caps and other usage-based data policies. (See The Dangerous Reaction to Netflix-Comcast, Comcast-Netflix Peering Deal: A Game-Changer? and California Lawmakers Hug Net Neutrality.)
Even before the California vote on Thursday, the FCC has given its blessing to zero-rating policies, arguing that implementations by mobile operators such as Verizon, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile US Inc. made the market more competitive. Some US cable operators are also sizing up zero-rating policies as a way to differentiate their services, according to a top exec at OpenVault LLC , a broadband data collection and analysis company that works with ISPs in the US and other parts of the globe. (See Cable Ops Preparing to Exempt Some OTT Services From Data Caps .)
The legal effort in California got some juice last week when Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) throttled the data speeds of members of the Santa Clara County Fire Department during their fight to contain area wildfires. Verizon soon apologized, noting that reducing the speed of emergency responders was a "customer support mistake," but held that the situation had "nothing to do with net neutrality."
Fight for the Future praised the Assembly's passage of the legislation (SB 822). "No one wants their cable or phone company to control what they see and do on the Internet," Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement that called on other states to follow California's lead. "California just took a huge step toward restoring protections that prevent companies like AT&T and Comcast from screwing us all over more than they already do."
Meanwhile, the California Cable & Telecommunications Association (CCTA) argued that the state law goes too far and will further foster a sense of uncertainty that could chill investment by cable operators and other Internet service providers.
"We are committed to protecting consumers online and to preserving the open Internet," the organization said in a statement. "However, the legislation includes extreme provisions rejected by the Obama FCC in 2015 and could threaten the innovation and investment that are the backbone of California's economy."
The CCTA's suggested remedy is "permanent bipartisan legislation" passed by Congress that would provide consistent rules of the road for all.
The United States Telecom Association (USTelecom) echoed that. "Consumers expect a single, national approach to keeping our internet open, not the confusing patchwork of conflicting requirements passed today," the group's president & CEO said, according to Variety.
Governors of Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana, Rhode Island and Vermont have already signed orders to reinstate some open Internet rules, while legislatures in Oregon, Vermont and Washington have enacted net neutrality-related legislation, reports The Wall Street Journal.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading