California bill would restore, strengthen net neutrality protections

San Jose Mercury News |

--With the FCC order to repeal net neutrality rules set to take effect next week, a bill that would restore those regulations in California will get its first hearing Tuesday.

SB 822, written by State Sen. Scott D. Wiener, D-San Francisco, is backed by big names including Tom Wheeler, the Obama-appointed former Federal Communications Commission chairman who wrote the 2015 Open Internet Order.

"California is stepping up into a void to make sure people don't lose the protections they have," Wheeler said in an interview with this publication Friday. The rules Wheeler wrote were repealed in a 3-2 partisan vote in December by the Republican-majority FCC, which is pushing for fewer regulations.

Wheeler is joined by former FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Gloria Tristani in advocating for SB 822, which would in some ways be stronger than the net neutrality rules put in place under President Obama's administration after more than a decade of legal and political wrangling. Those rules required equal treatment of all internet traffic, and prohibited the establishment of internet slow and fast lanes.

Wiener's bill would also prohibit "zero rating," in which internet providers exempt certain content, sites and services from data caps. In addition, it would prohibit public agencies in the state from signing contracts with ISPs that violate net neutrality principles, and call for internet service providers to be transparent about their practices and offerings.

"It's the broadest net neutrality bill in the country," said Jeff Cretan, Wiener's communications director, last week.

SB 822 also has the support of the mayors of some of the biggest cities in the state, including that of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and Los Angeles, plus dozens of startups and consumer interest groups including the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In addition, more than 52,000 Californians signed letters supporting the bill, which has 14 co-sponsors.

The broadband industry is opposing state-level rules on net neutrality.

"Broadband providers have worked hard over the past 20 years to deploy ever more sophisticated, faster and higher-capacity networks, and uphold net neutrality protections for all," USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter wrote in a blog post. "To continue this important work, there is no question we will aggressively challenge state or municipal attempts to fracture the federal regulatory structure that made all this progress possible."

Other states that have enacted or proposed their own net neutrality rules include Washington, New York, Montana and Rhode Island. The FCC is facing lawsuits over galore over its repeal of the rules, including from 21 states and Washington, D.C.

And what might the FCC and Chairman Ajit Pai do if the California bill passes in defiance of their rules?

"You're asking me to predict what the Trump FCC will do?" Wheeler said. "I can do a better job predicting the weather, I think."

The California bill will be heard in the Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee on Tuesday. Another state bill, by State Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, passed the state Senate earlier this year.

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