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California Senate Set to Vote on Net Neutrality Bill

The state Senate may vote as soon as Tuesday on legislation that is being touted as the most comprehensive state net neutrality bill in the nation.

by Levi Sumagaysay and Katy Murphy, The Mercury News / May 30, 2018
California state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco (AP)

(TNS) — California this week could take a step closer to having its own net neutrality rules.

The state Senate may vote as soon as Tuesday on a bill by State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, which is being touted as the most comprehensive state net neutrality bill in the nation.

The Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal Obama-era federal rules protecting net neutrality — the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally — in December. The U.S. Senate voted to overturn the FCC’s repeal this month, but the effort faces an uphill battle in the House of Representatives and would have to be approved by Pres. Donald Trump. Trump named Ajit Pai, who led the repeal of the Open Internet Rules, to the chairman position at the FCC.

“Tragically, after decades of work (on net neutrality)… Donald Trump comes into office and his FCC wipes everything away,” Wiener said during a press conference at the capitol in Sacramento Tuesday, where he was joined by one of the bill’s co-authors, State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and representatives from various advocacy groups that support SB 822.

Wiener’s bill prohibits Internet service providers from blocking or throttling Internet traffic, and takes aim at “zero rating,” in which Internet providers exempt certain content, sites and services from data caps. The bill cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee last Friday and must be voted on by this Friday.

SB 822 is supported by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (who drafted the rules that this FCC overturned), California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the mayors of California’s biggest cities, plus dozens of public advocacy groups.

Mitch Steiger, of the California Labor Federation, said net neutrality is important for workers.

“When the FCC repealed those net neutrality rules, it was very much a direct attack on (online) forums to organize,” Steiger said during the press conference. He provided an example: Researchers found that in 2005, Canadian telecom company Telus blocked server access to a site its workers were using to organize.

SB 822 is opposed by the broadband, cable and telecom industries, plus the state’s Chamber of Commerce.

AT&T, Comcast and two major industry trade groups reported spending nearly $1 million on lobbying in Sacramento in the first three months of the year alone — including against SB 822 — according to documents filed with the California Secretary of State.

A Comcast spokeswoman said Tuesday the company would have no comment about SB 822, but pointed to Comcast’s previous statements that it does not block, slow or discriminate against Internet content.

Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said proponents of the bill — artists, writers and community activists — planned to visit 100 legislative offices Tuesday to urge lawmakers to support SB 822.

“For at least one day we will match the ISP contract lobby numbers,” he said.

But Falcon said he was optimistic that public opinion would prevail, noting that a national online poll conducted by the University of Maryland in March found that 86 percent opposed the repeal of net neutrality rules.

“Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, you’re basically on the same side,” Falcon said. “No amount of money in the world will stop that type of lopsided opinion. I like my odds in getting this bill through the Senate and getting it through the Assembly later this year.”

Other states that have passed or have their own net neutrality bills in progress include Washington, Montana and Rhode Island. A New York state senator has also introduced a bill similar to California’s.

©2018 The San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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