California Democrats Team Up for Net Neutrality

SACRAMENTO (CN) — Two California Democrats crafting “gold standards” in net neutrality laws said Monday they will amend and combine their bills before a vote this week in the Legislature.

State Senators Scott Wiener of San Francisco and Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, both Democrats, said they are combining and amending their net neutrality bills so that both must be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown to take effect.

Wiener’s Senate Bill 822 will focus on banning internet service providers from intentionally slowing or throttling internet access, and introduce restrictions on a fledgling industry practice known as “zero rating,” in which providers exempt certain streaming data from customers’ bills.

De Leon’s measure will bar state agencies from contracting with providers that violate or will not agree to California’s new net neutrality framework. Under Senate Bill 460, companies such as AT&T and Verizon will have to agree, under penalty of perjury, that they will follow the new guidelines before they can accept state or local government contracts.

The senators’ changes come two days before their bills are scheduled for key votes in an Assembly policy committee.

Wiener, a first-term senator, says California can’t trust major providers and media companies to police the internet after the federal government’s repeal of net neutrality.

“The internet is at the heart of our 21st century democracy and economy, and we must protect the internet with strong net neutrality protections,” Wiener said in a statement. “Particularly in light of the massive consolidation between internet service providers and media companies — most recently AT&T and Time Warner — we can’t just trust [providers] to allow equal internet access.”

Last week marked the end of federal net neutrality, as the Obama-era rules expired.

While many states are fighting the federal government in court or pursuing their own state-level rules, the Federal Trade Commission now is responsible for enforcing regulations on companies that violate consumer rights or run afoul of antitrust laws online.

The California Democrats say they hope to create a gold standard for other states to follow.

Both measures have already passed in the state Senate and will move through the Assembly in a process known as contingent enactment, meaning both must be signed for each to become law. The two Democrats will sign on as joint authors of the bills.

The bills’ deep-pocketed opponents are fighting bitterly to kill the net neutrality proposals.

AT&T has complained to a state Senate committee that the new standards go much further than the old federal rules. The opponents say that limiting zero-rating plans could have a social impact and disproportionately affect low-income customers.

“Ending free internet data is particularly harmful to younger, low-income and minority Californians who are more dependent on their mobile devices to access the internet,” said the California State Conferences of the NAACP in an opposition letter.

But the bills enjoy broad support from civil rights group such as Center for Media Justice, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the Courage Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union of California. They say Wiener’s proposal will rein in providers and prevent them from “picking winners and losers online.”

Eddie Kurtz, Courage Campaign president, said the senators are doing the country a “great service” by joining forces and combining their bills.

“Their courageous stand against some of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful companies in the country — AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon — is exactly the kind of leadership our communities need in Sacramento,” Kurtz said in a statement.

The bills are scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee Wednesday morning.

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