California on Wednesday restored its push for the nation’s toughest net neutrality rules, advancing legislation that calls for a free and open Internet over the objections of the telecommunications and cable industries.
The Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee approved SB 822 by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, by a 9-3 vote. The bill, which had been gutted by the same committee earlier this summer, now goes to the full Assembly for a vote.
The measure is a response to the Federal Communications Commission’s decision last year to overturn net neutrality regulations that had banned Internet providers from blocking or slowing down websites.
“The Internet needs to be free and open, where we as individuals get to decide where we go,” Weiner told the committee.
Since the FCC ruling, Internet service providers (ISPs) are allowed to manipulate Internet traffic if they disclose their practices. California, 20 other states and the District of Columbia have sued in federal court to overturn the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules, which were created in the Obama administration.
Meanwhile a number of telecommunications and cable companies have posted net neutrality principles on their websites, pledging an open Internet. But California lawmakers want to put those consumer protections into state statute.
Wiener’s bill would prohibit Internet service providers from “impairing or degrading” lawful Internet traffic based on the content, application or service — ensuring what advocates described as open access and healthy competition. It would also limit a practice known as “zero rating,” where customers aren’t charged for using their data on certain websites picked by ISPs.
While supporters praised the bill for its consumer protections, critics from the telecommunications and cable industries warned it would create a regulatory, compliance and litigation environment that will be hard on consumers, as well as weaken the state’s leadership in technology innovation.
“We believe this bill is anti-competitive and anti-consumer,” Bill Devine, an AT&T vice president, told the committee. “It will prohibit popular free data programs. We believe it will increase litigation costs.”
Specifically, Devine cited a study that showed 3.6 million Californians are saving as much as $30 a month using zero-rating programs, with minorities and low-income consumers benefiting the most.
And Carolyn McIntyre, president of the California Cable & Telecommunications Association, told lawmakers they were overstepping their jurisdiction, saying the federal government, not states, has the authority to regulate the Internet.
The overwhelming vote by the committee reverses its course two months ago when it stripped the bill of many of the protections sought by consumer advocates. And its chairman, Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, who was criticized for siding with the telecommunications industry, joined with Wiener to advance an even broader bill.
The push to legislate California-only Internet rules, however, wasn’t embraced by all lawmakers.
“If we’re not careful, we’re going to create of our state an island of its own regulations that’s going to penalize our Internet users and our constituents,” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno.
The committee also approved a related bill, SB 460 by Sen. Kevin de Leon, that would require state agencies to enter into contracts only with companies that comply with California’s net neutrality provisions.
This story was originally published by Techwire.