California is one step away from enacting ‘strongest’ net neutrality rules in the US
Lawmakers in California have pushed through a net neutrality bill that restores consumer protections on the state level. Proponents of the bill are heralding it as the “strongest net neutrality legislation in the nation,” and all that stands before it becoming law is California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signing off on it.
Governor Brown hasn’t indicated if he will do that, and he has until the end of September to decide. However, those in favor of the bill are celebrating as if it’s a done deal.
“We did it,” said Senator Scott Wiener (D-California). “We passed the strongest net neutrality standards in the nation. The internet is at the heart of 21st century life – our economy, our public safety and health systems, and our democracy. So when Donald Trump’s FCC decided to take a wrecking ball to net neutrality protections, we knew that California had to step in to ensure our residents have access to a free and open internet.”
This is the second attempt by California lawmakers to pass the bill, after an earlier version failed. This time things went much easier. Called Senate Bill 822, California’s state Assembly voted 61-18 in favor of the rules, with all 55 Democratic members and six Republicans casting affirmative votes, according to Arstechnica. The 18 votes against it all came from Republicans. A day later (Friday), California’s Senate approved the measure in a 27-12 vote. Now it awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.
The bill prohibits internet service providers from blocking or slowing down websites or “whole classes of applications,” like video. It also specifically prohibits ISPs from charging online services access fees to reach customers, a practice known as paid prioritization.
These same protections comprised the federal net neutrality rules that the FCC overturned earlier this year. However, California’s legislation goes even further by also disallowing ISPs from not counting certain content and websites they own against subscribers’ data caps, a practice known as “zero-rating.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) views California’s bill as a “gold standard” and hopes that other states will use as a template for enacting their own net neutrality protections.
While the celebration by lawmakers who support the bill is understandable, it might also be a bit premature. Even if it’s signed into law, there are sure to be legal battles that follow. FCC chairman Ajit Pai saw this coming when spearheading the rollback of net neutrality rules, and included language that would preempt state and local laws that conflict with the the FCC’s Open Internet Order.
Whether the FCC has that authority to actually do that is something will ultimately be decided in court. In the meantime, states are starting to take matters into their own hands, and it’s likely that more will follow if California’s bill is signed into law.