Capitol Alert

Can California preserve net neutrality? Lawmakers pledge to try

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon addresses fellow members on the Senate floor.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon addresses fellow members on the Senate floor. Sacramento Bee file

In another episode of the California vs. Donald Trump saga, Democratic state lawmakers are promoting legislation to preserve equal internet access in defiance of a recent federal ruling.

Republicans on the Federal Communications Commission established a new paradigm for internet service providers last month by opening the door for the companies to charge websites more for higher connection speeds. The five-member commission voted 3-2 along party lines to repeal net neutrality rules, enacted under the Obama administration, that regulated internet service providers as public utilities and banned companies from prioritizing content from one website or app over another.

The new ruling could mean that internet providers will charge websites more for higher connection speeds – a potentially damaging concept for start-ups, nonprofits and small companies that cannot afford a pay-to-play model.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, has called the decision “extremely dangerous.”

De León introduced legislation last week to essentially apply some of the Obama-era rules to internet service providers in California. Senate Bill 460 would make it illegal for broadband providers to block or limit internet service or interfere with customer access. The bill also requires the California Public Utilities Commission to establish new rules to enforce net neutrality.

“In today’s digital world, the internet is critical to free expression, free speech, and democracy,” de León said in a statement. “Without strong net neutrality rules, there’s nothing to stop the companies that already monopolize the internet from blocking websites or information altogether, so if the Trump Administration won’t protect consumers – the State of California will.”

Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, promoted dueling legislation – now in the form of spot bill SB 822 – stating the Legislature’s intent to “effectuate net neutrality in California utilizing the state’s regulatory powers.” To do that, the bill will regulate business practices and use net neutrality as a condition in state contracts, cable franchise agreements and agreements that let companies place wireless broadband equipment on utility poles, his office 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,” Wiener said.

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Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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