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Net neutrality clears California senate on party line vote

By Steve Blum
Tellus Venture Associates

May 30, 2018 — Santa Cruz, CA

The future of network neutrality is now in the hands of the California assembly. Yesterday, the California senate approved senate bill 822, authored by Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco) on a party line vote. It bakes net neutrality principles into California consumer protection law, and gives both contingency fee trial lawyers and the California attorney general the authority to sue Internet service providers that don’t comply.

The language approved by the California senate reinstates the three “bright line” bans imposed by the FCC in 2015 and then overturned late last year: no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation. And it adds a fourth – zero rating – to the list.

State and local agencies would also be required to buy Internet service from providers that abide by those rules, unless it’s in “a geographical area where Internet access services are only available from a single broadband Internet access service provider”. The net neutrality purchasing requirement applies to fixed and mobile services alike, and extends to any broadband purchases paid for with California taxpayers’ money.

Strong as it may seem now, SB 822 was watered down by the industry-friendly senate energy, utilities and communications committee – it won’t explicitly apply to broadband projects subsidised by the state and it won’t add net neutrality obligations to cable franchise requirements.

SB 822 now joins SB 460 in the California assembly’s in-box. SB 460 is carried by Kevin De Leon (D – Los Angeles), until recently the senate majority leader and now a candidate for the U.S. senate, challenging fellow democrat and incumbent U.S. senator Diane Feinstein. His bill was approved by the California senate on a similar party line vote and then stalled in the assembly. De Leon’s bill is the weaker of the two – among other differences, he would allow zero rating and includes fewer enforcement mechanisms.

The likeliest scenario is that one bill will be folded into the other. Which bill survives – and which senator gets the spotlight – could depend on the results of Tuesday’s primary. If De Leon ends up in a run off with Feinstein in November, he’ll need a mountain of name recognition and cash, and his colleagues in the legislature might be inclined to help him get it.

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