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State Senate OKs Net Neutrality Bill

The state Senate voted Wednesday to impose rules on Internet service providers to ensure that Californians have fair and reasonable access to the Internet, discounting concerns of limited consumer choice and costly lawsuits.

The 23-12 vote was a direct rebuke to the Trump administration for so-called net neutrality in the nation’s most populous state, with federal protections for equal treatment of Internet traffic set to expire in less than two weeks. 

The bill, SB 822, by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would make it illegal for broadband companies to block or “throttle” a customer’s access to the Internet, create so-called fast lanes and slow lanes, and engage in deceptive consumer practices or impede competition. 

“It ensures that we get to decide where we go on the internet and what service we use as opposed to internet service providers making that decision for us or manipulating what they want us to do,” Wiener told his colleagues on the Senate floor.

The Federal Communications Commission in December overturned Obama administration net neutrality regulations, which have banned Internet providers from blocking or slowing down websites. The commission’s order is set to go into effect June 11 and provide what its chairman, Ajit Pai, earlier this month described as a “light-touch approach” that will foster Internet growth.

His sentiments were echoed in the Senate chamber when critics of Wiener’s bill cautioned that California-only rules would undermine Californians, stifle investment in broadband development and end up costing consumers more money in the long run. And ISPs, they noted, are policed at both the state and federal level.

“The bill is not needed. Internet providers are already held legally accountable by the California attorney general and federal government,” said Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel. “Ultimately all this bill will succeed in doing is opening up our state to legal challenges and costly litigation. 

“It would be reckless for this body to support legislation that threatens the core of California’s very economy presuming to fix an internet that is not broken,” she added.

California joins a growing list of states that have moved to implement their own net neutrality rules this year over the objections of federal regulators, who contend that they have the jurisdiction to regulate the Internet. The U.S. Senate also voted this month to reinstate the Obama-era net neutrality rules, but the bill has very little chance of passing the Republican-controlled House, let alone getting President Donald Trump’s signature.

The telecommunications and cable industries, which have lined up in opposition to the bill, say they are committed to providing an open Internet. In a statement on its website, Comcast states: “We do not block, slow down or discriminate against lawful content. We believe in full transparency in our customer policies. We are for sustainable and legally enforceable net neutrality protections for our customers.”

Such a promise by key players in California’s economy, Wiener said, should be put into statute.

“That doesn’t mean we should just have the honor system when it comes to net neutrality, that we should just take their word for it that they’re not going to engage in these practices,” Wiener said.

His bill now goes to the Assembly, where another net neutrality bill by Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, is pending.