State of California Passes Its Own Net Neutrality Bill — In Direct Defiance of the FCC

Posted on in MEDIA

California lawmakers have ficially passed a bill protecting net neutrality in its state.  The move is a direct counter-attack against the FCC’s neutrality rollback.

If the FCC wanted an even bigger headache, they got it this morning.  After massive pushback from Montana, New York, and more than a dozen other states, California has now passed a bill forcing net neutrality throughout the state.

The bill is highly likely to become law — probably within weeks (if not days).

Just last night, the California State Senate approved the bill, which requires any ISP operating within the state to adhere to net neutrality provisions.  Accordingly, any ISP begging differently can take their business elsewhere — and effectively forfeit billions in future revenues.

The bill in question is SB-460, spurred by State Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

León had little trouble rallying support around the initiative, with a 21-12 vote in favor.

The bill is now hurtling towards becoming law.  SB-460 now heads to the State Assembly, where the pro-neutrality Democrats hold a sizable 53-25 majority over the Republicans.  Even so, Republicans may cross the line on this one, especially with an uncertain midterm election approaching.

Incidentally, there’s actually another net neutrality bill being deliberated in California.  The ‘other’ bill, SB822, was introduced by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).  Looking ahead, both bills are likely to be merged, with various details ironed out.

The SB460 bill flatly prohibits “paid prioritization, or providing preferential treatment some Internet traffic to any Internet customer.”

It also makes it illegal for any ISP to limit a customer’s ability to “select, access, and use broadband Internet access service or lawful Internet content, applications, services, or devices the customer’s choice.”

State agencies are prohibited from buying internet services from any ISP that does not follow these rules.  If an ISP misrepresents its stance on net neutrality to a government agency, it will be committing perjury under the new law.

The bill closely resembles other recently-passed executive orders in Montana and New York.  Just last week, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed an order that would also prevent any throttling, paid prioritization, or other moves limiting access to legal apps and sites.

Technically, those orders pertain to contracts with state agencies.  But California’s laws extend far beyond, and even call for punitive action against ISPs knowingly throttling or blocking access.

The massive state pushback is forcing ISPs to make a difficult choice.

Initially, access providers like Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and Cox Communications were ecstatic following the FCC rollbacks.  The reason is that fast lanes are pricey luxuries for companies, and could draw billions in toll charges from companies like Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Spotify.

But extreme pushback from states like New York and California immediately complicated that picture.

For starters, ISPs are now considering a patchwork different access rules, depending on the state.  But even if the federal government successfully imposes its will on states like California, ISPs will be viewed with hostility.  That war zone is bad for business, and ultimately, the FCC’s heavy-handed ruling could represent a setback.

Underpinning all this is an intense public outcry to protect net neutrality.  That was flatly ignored by the FCC and its politically out–touch chairman, Ajit Pai, though Pai is now receiving a brutal lesson in grassroots politics.  That rebellion is now fomenting into a multi-headed hydra, a beast that includes extreme pushback from state legislatures, governors, and states attorney generals.

Consumers represent another major resistance front, one that could spur taxpayer-funded ISPs.  Already, towns like Fort Collins, CO have built their own ISPs to broaden access and lower costs.

The situation is probably good news for music and media companies.

The reason is that ISPs are taking a big step back, and potentially considering a nationwide preservation net neutrality.  Frankly, that may be cheaper than state-by-state modifications, despite sacrificing juicy toll charges from platforms like Spotify.