California Weighs Tough Net Neutrality State Law

A California legislator has fleshed out the details in legislation that would provide comprehensive Net neutrality protection for consumers, content providers and others. The move may reflect a trend: A number of states have taken steps to counter the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s rollback of federal regulations governing broadband Internet traffic.

Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, last week offered an amended version of a bill he introduced earlier this year, which essentially prohibits Internet service providers from engaging in any practice that would manipulate or hinder consumer access to certain content, devices or services.

The bill would make the following actions illegal: speeding up or slowing down delivery of targeted data; paid prioritization; economic discrimination; and charging access fees to businesses, governments, nonprofits or other organizations to reach consumers.

The bill also bans misleading marketing practices. It requires that ISPs that contract with the state or get public money for broadband infrastructure buildout, as well as firms that apply or hold state licenses, must adhere to these rules.

“SB 822 contains strong, comprehensive and enforceable policies that will position California as a leader in the fight for Net neutrality,” Weiner said.

Weiner has been holding talks with officials in other states that have been exploring comprehensive protections to counter the FCC order, according to Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson for the senator.

Weiner has engaged with officials in Massachusetts, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey and Tennessee on the subject, Cretan told the E-Commerce Times.

Washington Law Enacted

The amended bill is backed by the ACLU of California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Courage Campaign and CALPIRG. A number of other members of the California State Senate and Assembly are listed as co-authors of the bill.

The California effort is praiseworthy, according to Mozilla, which earlier this year filed suit against the FCC to protect Net neutrality.

“We think that Net neutrality should be addressed at a federal level, but states like California are doing the right thing by trying to protect their citizens, since the FCC has abdicated their consumer protection role,” Mozilla said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times by spokesperson Janette Ciborowski.

Washington state became the first to pass a comprehensive Net neutrality law, which covers many of the same areas as the proposed California legislation.

The Washington bill prevents throttling speeds, prevents ISPs from blocking legal content, prevents paid prioritization, and requires ISPs to disclose certain information about management practice, service performance and agreement terms.

The governors of some states, including Montana, New Jersey and New York, have signed executive orders that require ISPs that do business with the state operate under Net neutrality rules.

The FCC had no comment on the development, spokesperson Will Wiquist told the E-Commerce Times.

Closes Loopholes

Open technology advocates generally have expressed support for the California proposal, arguing that the FCC order to overturn Net neutrality could have a negative impact on consumers, technology startups, content producers and others.

“The California rules are quite good,” said Ryan Singel, media and strategy fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. “They are the most comprehensive state proposal we have seen yet.”

The California bill was written very carefully to close some loopholes observed in ISPs’ existing practices, he told the E-Commerce Times, including very clear language on how zero rating activities explicitly were banned in some areas but allowed in other areas.

“I think as a general matter we are pleased to see state legislation,” said Allie Bohm, policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

However, “in the best of all worlds,” she told the E-Commerce Times, “Congress will pass the CRA to restore Net neutrality protections at the federal level nationwide.”

David Jones has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2015. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, e-commerce, open source, gaming, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. He has written for numerous media outlets, including Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times. Email David.

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