California Lawmaker Preps State Net Neutrality Bill

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Seeking to rescue net neutrality, a California lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a consumer protection bill that would bar internet providers from slowing or throttling internet access in the Golden State.

State Sen. Scott Wiener’s proposal is a direct response to the Federal Communications Commission’s controversial decision in December to stash net-neutrality rules. Critics, including Wiener and a host of consumer protection groups, argue the FCC has set the table for providers to pander to websites willing to pay for quicker access.

Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced the bill on the first day of the legislative session and took a shot at President Donald Trump.

“Net neutrality is essential to our 21st century democracy,” Wiener said in a statement. “We won’t let the Trump-led FCC dismantle our right to a free and open internet, and we won’t let them create a system where internet providers can favor web sites and services based on who pays more money.”

Under the legislation, the California Public Utilities Commission would be the watchdog agency over providers like Comcast and AT&T, tasked with enforcing new net neutrality laws. Net neutrality would be required for cable franchise agreements, new state contracts and access to state-owned utility poles.

The FCC’s 3-2 to vote to kill net neutrality led to bipartisan uproar and a flood of new legislation.

New York and Washington state have proposed bills to ban providers from offering specialized services to website operators in a practice known as throttling or fast lanes. New York’s version was proposed by a Democrat, Washington state’s by a Republican.

If the states’ measures are eventually passed, they will likely be challenged by the federal government. The abolition order reiterates the FCC’s stance that its laws pre-empt state communications laws.

“We therefore pre-empt any state or local measures that would effectively impose rules or requirements that we have repealed or decided to refrain from imposing in this order or that would impose more stringent requirements for any aspect of broadband service,” the FCC order states.

Wiener counters that while states have long deferred to federal neutrality rules, the FCC’s pre-emption provision isn’t bulletproof. He points to a 2016 Sixth Circuit ruling that upheld Tennessee and North Carolina’s right to regulate and restrict expansion by municipal telecommunications providers as precedent.

First Amendment groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union back Wiener’s net neutrality effort.

“The FCC’s complete abandonment of its responsibilities to protect the free and open internet will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in internet policy history,” said Ernesto Falcon, Electronic Frontier Foundation legislative counsel. “In light of the complete absence of federal protections, we absolutely must have state laws fill the void on both privacy and network neutrality.”

As of Wednesday, 10 state lawmakers have requested to be co-authors of the proposal.

Wiener, a first-term state senator, says that along with net neutrality, he will pursue a package of housing bills this year that call for the expansion of farmworker housing and new housing near public transportation centers. He will also continue work on LGBT issues and renewable energy proposals.


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