California Lawmakers Have Cleared A Key Hurdle To Protect Net Neutrality

Senior Contributor
04.18.18

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When the FCC announced it planned to abandon its role in regulating the internet, we predicted that the companies lobbying for the repeal were trading a simple, clear law everyone aside from internet service providers liked for a state-by-state legal battle nobody would really win. And, sure enough, that’s what happened, as individual states have quickly moved to protect net neutrality. But California is going further, and its net neutrality bid just cleared a major hurdle.

Most states have protected net neutrality by executive order, but that can be reversed by an incoming governor if they so desire. California’s legislature is working on passing a state law that would make it part of doing business in California. Internet service providers like Comcast have been lobbying, intensely, against the bill, trying to kill it in committee, and that bid has failed. But the bill didn’t entirely go unaltered, either. Via the LA Times:

Under the version of the legislation that passed in committee, the state’s utilities commission would not monitor or enforce net neutrality rules, a power that would instead fall to the state’s attorney general. Companies also would not have to adhere to net neutrality rules as part of cable franchise agreements or as a condition for obtaining state contracts to install broadband across the state.

This is a bit looser than executive orders in states like New York, which require net neutrality as part of state contracts. And leaving committee is just the first step; it now goes before the entire chamber. But, if it passes, it’s still a state law that protects net neutrality, which is much harder to undo once it’s passed. And the fact that California is the eighth largest economy in the world gives it quite a bit of leverage compared to other states, and the fact that if it does pass, it will join Washington and Oregon, making the entire West Coast a haven for net neutrality.

The main question is whether California will serve as a leader or as an outlier. Net neutrality is incredibly popular, politically, and internet service providers face a fairly severe disadvantage in that Americans really, really hate them. And it seems likely that as goes California, so will go several other states: A host of states are suing the FCC, making net neutrality a condition for bidding on government contracts, or passing their own net neutrality laws.

Still, there are quite a few states that either feel they have bigger fish to fry, or aren’t taking up the issue yet. If California’s approach works, they may decide to settle the issue by passing a similar bill. If that indeed happens, then ISPs might soon find themselves longing for the days when net neutrality was one law instead of dozens.

(via The LA Times)

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