Two California Net Neutrality Bills Team Up Ahead of Crucial Vote

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—The authors of two competing net neutrality bills now moving through the California state legislature have begun working to make the two bills compatible, ahead of a crucial committee vote Wednesday, as the state with country’s largest economy attempts to reinstate the protections for a open internet that were wiped out by an FCC vote.

Under the ruling by the Republican-controlled FCC in December, Obama-era rules guaranteeing that internet service providers treat all data flowing through their digital pipes equally became a thing of the past on June 11. But the California state Senate quickly worked up a bill—SB 822, authored by San Francisco Democrat Scott Wiener—that would establish even stricter net neutrality standards for the state.

But the state senate also passed a separate bill, SB 460, and while Wiener’s bill has been attacked by the telecommunications industry for being supposedly too restrictive on ISPs, the competing bill written by Los Angeles Democrat Kevin de León has been criticized by open internet activists as too relaxed when it comes to stopping ISPs from favoring some internet traffic over others based on who can pay.

On Monday, however, Wiener and de León announced that they each had amended their bills to make them work in lockstep, before a Wednesday vote in the California Assembly’s Communications and Conveyance Committee that will decide whether the bills move ahead to a possible vote by the entire California Assembly.

The bills must pass the Assembly, and then be signed by Governor Jerry Brown, before net neutrality becomes law within the state of California. By amending the bills to make them compatible, the two state senators will each become cosponsors of the other’s bill, and the bills will be subject to a rule known as “contingent enactment,” which means that either both or neither can become law—but neither can pass and be signed by the governor separately.

While Wiener’s bill goes beyond even what the now-abolished federal net neutrality standards required—placing restrictions on “zero rating,” which had allowed ISPs to offer free data for certain applications—de Leon’s bill primarily prohibited the state from entering into contracts with ISPs that don’t live up to net neutrality standards. It also extended state consumer protection laws to cover net neutrality.

Under the new, cooperative deal between the senators, de Leon’s bill would prohibit the state from signing contracts with ISPs that don’t meet the strict standards in SB 822.

“It’s really important that Sen. de León and I have joined into a team effort, because the internet and telecom companies, the ISPs, were trying to play us off each other,” Wiener told The San Francisco Chronicle. “This is about protecting the internet and making sure the internet is equally available for everyone.”

The California bill is likely to face a legal challenge from the federal government, because as part of the net neutrality repeal, the FCC included a provision preventing states from creating their own net neutrality laws. Nonethless, 27 states including California have taken steps to do so, and as reported, last week Washington became the first state to put its own net neutrality legislation into effect.

Photo by Slowking / Wikimedia Commons 

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