California Net Neutrality Bill Restored After Gutting

Following the gutting of network neutrality, the state of California is still a battleground in the fight to restore it.

The battle for network neutrality still rages on in the United States. Last year, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) voted to repeal network neutrality. While the rules were repealed, the regulator also put in place a ban on state level network neutrality. The regulator argues that such a ban is necessary because ISP networks cross state lines. Because of this, the ban is necessary to prevent different laws affecting the same networks.

That, of course, didn’t stop certain states from moving ahead with network neutrality anyway. Back in January, the state of California was among many states tabling network neutrality legislation in defiance of the FCC.

California in particular has grown to become a major battle ground in the fight for network neutrality. Last month, after fierce lobbying by large ISPs, the network neutrality legislation was gutted. From Mashable:

late Tuesday evening, Miguel Santiago, a California assemblyman and chair of the Communications and Conveyance committee, edited the bill to allow for gaping loopholes that benefit the telecommunications industry and make the net neutrality legislation toothless. AT&T is one of Santiago’s largest campaign donors.

Santiago’s move has surprised and angered other Democrats, who have been pushing for net neutrality in the Golden State since the Trump administration revoked the 2015 FCC net neutrality rules. Although net neutrality is no longer protected via federal regulations, states have been lining up to pass their own legislation protecting the principle of internet service providers treating all traffic the same, regardless of the source or content.

If enough states pass laws protecting net neutrality, it would effectively nullify the FCC’s hugely unpopular decision, and may discourage major ISPs from creating “fast lanes” on the internet for services that can afford to pay — one of the biggest fears in a post-net neutrality world.

If Santiago doesn’t remove his amendments, he would be the first California Democrat to side with the Trump administration to actively destroy net neutrality, according to Fight for the Future (an internet freedoms advocacy organization).

It seems that a lot has changed since then. Digital rights organizations are breathing a sigh of relief because a lot of the provisions that effectively gutted the legislation are now back in. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says that the restoration of the legislation is thanks in large part due to public outcry. From the EFF:

Since then, there’s been an outcry from Team Internet in California, making clear how important effective, strong net neutrality protections are. Senator Wiener, Senator de León, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, and Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance that voted on the watered-down bill, have all come to an agreement that once again makes California’s proposed legislation the strongest net neutrality bill in the country.

The willingness of Assemblymember Santiago to listen to his constituents’ opinions and realize their needs, as opposed to those of large ISPs like AT&T, is laudable. And the resulting agreement puts California net neutrality back on track.

As was initially proposed by Senator Wiener and Senator de Leon, both net neutrality bills will now become a package. The ban on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization remains—paid prioritization has been a particular target of misleading ISP arguments. The ban on certain kinds of zero rating—the kinds that lead consumers to services that ISPs want them to use rather than giving them choices—also remains. And so does the ban on access fees, which means ISPs will not be able to get around these protections by charging fees at the places where data enters their networks.

So, it seems that legislation protecting network neutrality can move ahead again. This puts us back into the spot of wondering what happens when state law runs up against federal regulators wishes. We may find out at some point assuming there isn’t going to be any further bumps in the road ahead.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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