California Senate Votes to Resurrect Net Neutrality
The California Senate voted on Wednesday to approve a bill that would resurrect net neutrality regulations, which were repealed in December by the Federal Communications Commission. The bill’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced the bill in March. The bill was approved on a 23-12 vote in the Senate, with all the ayes votes coming from Democrats and all the nays from Republicans. It will now move to the State Assembly, with hearings beginning in June, and a vote taking place by August. If that passes, then Governor Jerry Brown will have to sign it for it to become law.
The repeal of net neutrality will give internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon to play favorites for certain online content, by charging customers extra to access specific content. Net neutrality regulations were put into place in 2015 under the Obama Administration, but came under fire from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. The repeal officially goes into effect on a federal level on June 11.
With these new proposed rules, California will enact stricter regulations than the previous 2015 rules. The new rules will bar ISP’s from offering sponsored content, zero-rating, or other deals that could incentivize other broadband companies to discriminate against content being hosted on their networks. They will also ensure that broadband companies will not be able to use their market power to charge large sums from corporate customers. These deals would include agreements between ISPs and companies that provide internet content like Netflix and Hulu.
The bill has been fairly popular among California politicians and state officials, including former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, an Obama appointee. Under his leadership, the FCC implemented the former 2015 Net Neutrality regulations. He has described the effort in California as being the “most sweeping” bill of its kind in the country. Wheeler believes that if the bill passes in its current form, it could voice a strong opinion to other states and Capitol Hill.
As it customary regarding these issues, ISPs are objectively opposed to this law. Bigger companies like Comcast and Verizon say that without the ability to experiment with new business models, they’ll be forced to begin charging customers more for their services in the future. Though Comcast has released a statement pledging their commitment to a free and open internet, there has been increased lobbying activity from the company to legalize “pro-consumer” prioritization. This would essentially give premium paying customers faster access to internet content, which is exactly what the original net neutrality regulations aimed to protect against.
Other states are following suit, with more than two dozen considering legislation to bring back net neutrality regulations. New York, Connecticut, and Maryland are all actively preparing legislation to protect net neutrality. Washington became the first state to successfully do so, passing a new bill earlier this year. In addition, New Jersey and Montana both have signed executive orders demanding all ISPs that do business with the states must adhere to net neutrality principles.