California Assembly Advances Net Neutrality Bill

Net Neutrality

California’s state Assembly is attempting to turn back time on net neutrality by voting yesterday to approve a controversial bill that brings the state closer to enacting the Obama-era Federal net neutrality laws that were gutted by the FCC earlier this year.

The California bill would prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from block or throttling lawful internet traffic. It would also nix the idea of pay-to-play, meaning that ISPs cannot charge websites or online services fees to prioritize their traffic to consumers. The legislation also imposes limits on data cap exemptions, and in case ISPs try to get around the new regulations, the legislation would ban ISPs from slowing down traffic at network interconnection points.

Supporters of the legislation believe that if the California bill becomes law, other states may follow suit and pass their own net neutrality bills.

“This bill is the strongest legislation restoring and defending net neutrality protections in any state–and prevents internet service providers from blocking, throttling, slowing content, or engaging in anti-consumer practices like zero-rating,” said Carli Stevenson, campaigner for the advocacy group Demand Progress. “This legislation is the gold standard for net neutrality protections, and passed thanks to the enormous grassroots push for the bill. This should send a message to other states as well as to members of Congress–Americans are serious about the importance of net neutrality, and are ready and willing to fight for their right to create, communicate, and engage online without giant ISPs serving as gatekeepers.”

The final vote in the Assembly was 61-18–largely down party lines, with Democrats voting as a block of 55 in favor of the legislation. Six Republicans crossed party lines to also vote for the bill. The votes against the bill came from the remaining 18 Republicans.

Republicans voting against the bill expressed concerns over its legality, as well as whether too much regulation would hamper innovation.

“The overreach, the going too far here is going to be challenged for its unconstitutionality, and we are going to find ourselves in very uncertain territory,” Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, said after the vote.

While the legislation differs significantly from current FCC rules, it isn’t entirely new. In fact, the state Senate already approved an earlier version of the legislation. However, because changes were made in the Assembly, the Senate must vote on the legislation again. That vote is expected to happen today before the Senate goes into recess. If the legislation clears the Senate, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, will have until Sept. 30 to sign the bill.

Unsurprisingly, the legislation has faced significant opposition from the telecommunications industry.

“ISPs have tried hard to gut and kill this bill, pouring money and robocalls into California,” said Katharine Trendacosta, policy analyst for Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a letter to supporters after the Assembly vote.

Some in the telecommunications industry argue that each state having its own laws will prove detrimental for consumers.

“Consumers expect a single, national approach to keeping our internet open, not the confusing patchwork of conflicting requirements passed today,” Jonathan Spalter, CEO at trade group USTelecom, said yesterday after the Assembly vote. “The California Assembly’s vote today keeps the country strapped into a rollercoaster ride of state net neutrality regulations, but won’t get us any closer to the stable and consistent net neutrality protections consumers deserve in the long term.”

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