(TNS) State Sen. Scott Wiener plans to amend his California net neutrality bill on Wednesday to make it as comprehensive as the policy the Federal Communications Commission recently voted to repeal.
The revised SB822 asserts California’s authority to require Internet service companies to treat all Web traffic equally, not only to protect consumers’ right to binge-watch Netflix programs, but also to ensure the state can continue to provide online-connected emergency notification alerts, electric grid management programs and smart transportation systems.
“The reality is that in 2018, the Internet is at the heart of our democracy and at the heart of our economy,” Wiener said. “And government has the responsibility to protect full and open access to the Internet as opposed to letting a handful of large companies decide who can access what.”
The San Francisco Democrat introduced the bill Jan. 3 in reaction to the FCC’s Dec. 14 vote to overturn Obama-era regulations that required Internet service companies to treat all Web traffic equally. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said the order, scheduled to take effect April 23, is a return to a “light-touch regulatory scheme that enabled the Internet to develop and thrive for nearly two decades.” Opponents of Pai’s action fear that Internet providers could charge some companies more than others, or introduce extra charges for faster service, though many broadband providers have denied such intentions.
The initial draft of Wiener’s bill contained only sparse language stating an intent to enact net neutrality regulations. Since then, Wiener’s office has worked with legal scholars and groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union to draft the details.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León has also introduced a net neutrality bill that the Senate has already sent to the Assembly, but it may not be heard until June. Meanwhile, Washington state lawmakers earlier this month became the first in the nation to enact a net neutrality law, set to go into effect in June.
The Wiener bill is more comprehensive than the others and would “match the level of protection” of the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules, at least within California, said Barbara van Schewick, a Stanford Law School professor. Van Schewick provided feedback to Wiener’s staff on some of the legal technicalities of the proposed bill.
The FCC has said individual states don’t have the authority to pass their own net neutrality rules. However, Wiener’s bill asserts the state has broad powers to protect residents’ “safety, life, public health (and) public convenience,” and that “almost every sector” of the economy is “dependent on the open and neutral Internet.”
That includes police and other emergency services, which increasingly rely on broadband and wireless connections to alert citizens. The bill also seeks to protect transportation, government services, voting, education and environmental monitoring.
In addition, it directs the state’s electrical grid operators to evaluate whether a lack of net neutrality rules could hurt the power system when smart energy devices become more integrated in the future.
The bill would cover cable and telephone companies that deliver service to any customer in the state, not just companies that have contracts with state agencies.
“We believe we have a strong argument that California under our police powers has the ability to protect consumers,” Wiener said. “This is a comprehensive and aggressive bill in terms of protecting net neutrality. We’re trying to adopt the protections that the FCC abandoned.”
However, Broadband for America, which represents AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and other Internet providers that opposed net neutrality rules, said individual state laws governing an Internet that crosses all state lines will eventually cost consumers more.
“Creating a maze of competing state rules to govern the Internet is the wrong approach to creating long-term policies for the Internet of the 21st century,” spokesman Rob Tappan said in a statement. “Competing regulations from state to state would increase compliance costs for businesses, lead to higher prices for customers and curb investment in the expansion of high-speed broadband infrastructure, which would most impact rural and other underserved communities.”
©2018 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.