California Net Neutrality Bill Passes Senate

California's omnibus net neutrality reregulation bill passed the Senate Wednesday, according to a group celebrating the vote.

The bill is the state's response to the FCC's vote to roll back the rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.

Eric Null, policy counsel at New America's Open Technology Institute, called it a "huge win for consumers."

The bill still has to pass the California Assembly.

Related: WGAW Backs California Net Neutrality Bill

"Americans want and need strong net neutrality protections to ensure a free, innovative online marketplace. With the anticipated demise of the federal net neutrality rules on June 11, the California Senate is helping to make sure its citizens do not go without these important protections," said Null after the vote. "We urge the State Assembly to follow the Senate’s lead and pass this critical legislation. California should be an inspiration for other states as they attempt to fill the void left by the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality."

The California bill would add various online practices to the Consumers' Legal Remedies Act's definition of "certain unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices" in the provision of goods and services in the state."

Those unfair methods would now include blocking, throttling, paid prioritization -- and specifically paid zero-rating plans -- among other things (see below).

ISPs can zero-rate in application-agnostic ways, but can't do so in exchange for being paid by a third party. Zero-rating plans are ones in which third parties subsidize an ISP's exclusion of accessing their site--say streaming a bandwidth-heavy video--from a user's bandwidth allowance. It is both a way for the edge provider to drive traffic to its site and for the ISP to differentiate service.

The bill would also tie access to the state's Universal Service Fund broadband subsidies to adhering to the new net neutrality rules and apply net neutrality to interconnections, which the FCC did in the 2015 Open Internet order and the current FCC reversed.

The FCC order eliminating the federal net neutrality rules also said state efforts to reinstate them were pre-empted, so a court fight is brewing given the efforts by California and a number of other states to either pass new legislation or mandate net neutrality in contracts for government broadband.

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.