Soapbox

Sen. de León wants state government to regulate the internet. It’s a terrible idea.

Diane Tepfer holds a sign with an image of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai as the “Grinch who Stole the Internet” as she protests in Washington on Dec. 14.
Diane Tepfer holds a sign with an image of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai as the “Grinch who Stole the Internet” as she protests in Washington on Dec. 14. AP

No matter what side you’re on in the debate, you ought to be concerned about state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin DeLeón’s legislation on net neutrality that was introduced last week.

 
Opinion

Let’s start with the basic concept: state-by-state action on net neutrality is a fool’s errand. Because there is state pre-emption language in the recent ruling by the Federal Communications Commission, it is likely that any attempt by a state to enact its own set of rules will likely be brushed aside by the courts. Of course, any state can test that provision, but it would likely be a lengthy and expensive battle. And it could do serious damage to Silicon Valley’s leadership in technology.

State-by-state regulation also makes little sense for consumers. Imagine 50 sets of rules governing internet speeds and other aspects of net neutrality. For any computer or smart phone user who crosses state lines, it would be a nightmare.

But the most dangerous provisions of de León’s Senate Bill 460 – which he is attempting to fast-track through the state Senate this week, most likely to give him another headline for his uphill U.S. Senate run – would give the California Public Utilities Commission virtual free rein to regulate the internet.

Nearly all of us – whether liberals or conservatives like myself – can agree that one reason for the internet’s success is that the government has had a hands-off approach. De León’s bill would end that. What’s worse, it would hand the job to an embattled agency that neither wants – nor has the capacity – to regulate the internet.

Just last year, when his agency was under bipartisan legislative criticism for poor performance, PUC Chairman Michael Picker noted that “technologies tend to change faster than we can actually respond,” questioning whether the PUC can “do these things effectively.”

“In my own judgment,” he added, “maybe we shouldn’t be doing telecommunications anymore.”

Even de León’s progressive colleague, Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, isn’t shy about his critique of the bill. “It is also critical that the Legislature adopt rules to establish net neutrality, and not delegate our authority to an unelected body like the Public Utilities Commission,” Wiener told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We all saw what the unelected members of the Federal Communications Commission did to net neutrality.”

Wiener also took a whack at de León’s rush to introduce his bill before the FCC even finalized its rules.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the FCC’s changes in the coming weeks. State legislators should wait to see what happens in Congress before opening the door to the regulation of the internet that even the most ardent supporters of net neutrality would likely oppose.

Jon Fleischman, former executive director of the California Republican Party, is publisher of FlashReport.org. He can be contacted at Jon@flashreport.org.

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