California Committee Approves Tough New Net Neutrality Bill

The California Legislature's Communications Committee has passed SB 822, a strong network neutrality bill that would restore rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization that the FCC rolled back in June, and then some (it prevents zero rating plans and applies rules to interconnections, which the FCC rules did not do).

The bill had already been amended and passed by the same committee, but activists had complained those changes, which included allowing zero rating plans, had gutted, or at least strongly watered down, the legislation. Under pressure, that language was ultimately restored and the re-vote for this week scheduled.If it passes the full assembly, it could set up a legal confrontation with the FCC, which says its rollback preempts state net neutrality reg efforts.

Related: Tough California Net Neutrality Bill Revived

The Aug. 22 vote came after dozens of people came to the hearing room microphone to express their strong feelings about the bill. Among those in support were the California Association of Realtors, ACLU, Green Party, California Clean Money Campaign, Writers Guild of America West, ADT Security Services, Santa Clara Board of Supervisors, Next Gen California.

Among those on the other side, which was a much shorter line, were AT&T, Sprint, the California Chamber of Commerce, Verizon, Consolidated Communications, T-Mobile, Comcast, California Manufacturers & Technology Association, Cox.

An AT&T representative told the committee that the bill's restoration of a zero rating prohibition would hurt low income and minority consumers. It also took issue with the bill's application of the rules to paid interconnections, which the FCC did not even do in its 2015 Open Internet order, though it did apply Title II for the first time and say it would look at issues on a case-by-case basis.

AT&T called it a radical departure from the historic internet rules in place since the Clinton Administration. He said SB 822 was anticompetitive and anticonsumer and that it would be challenged under the FCC's federal preemption. He said it would drive up prices and drive out popular free data programs and increase litigation costs.

He said the bill is built on speculation that someone, somewhere, sometime might violate net neutrality principles that are already enforceable by the California attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission and FCC.

The California Cable & Telecommunications Association said part of the reason it opposed the rules was that the state was exceeding its authority because the internet was an interstate service and that a patchwork of state legislation would impose operational burdens and "significant legal challenges.

A separate bill, SB 460, which requires that contractors for government communications services comply with the new net neutrality rules, also passed. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.