California’s Net Neutrality Bill Suffers Setback

Net Neutrality
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SACRAMENTO – Broadband providers in California appear to have dealt a blow to what would have been the toughest net neutrality bill in the country.

The proposed bill, introduced in January by state Sen. Scott Weiner and passed three weeks ago by California's Senate, would have restored Obama-era net neutrality rules and prohibited providers from blocking or throttling websites, applications, and services, and from charging companies for faster delivery of their content. It also banned some forms of "zero-rating," which involves exempting some material from consumers' data caps.

Broadband providers lobbied against the bill, arguing that the federal government should set internet policy, not individual states. They also opposed the bill's substantive provisions – like the ban on zero-rating, which interferes with their ambitions to favor content they own. For example, AT&T currently exempts video streamed through the DirecTV app from customers' data caps. If California were to ban zero-rating, that exemption would likely be illegal.

Last week, a committee in California's Assembly amended the measure by removing several key provisions, including the ban on zero-rating and on paid prioritization, plus providers would be able to throttle content to manage traffic on their networks. The latter amendment could allow providers "to throttle entire classes of applications in the name of network management," according the Los Angeles Times.

Weiner said the changes gutted the bill. "These hostile amendments eviscerate the bill and leave us with a net neutrality bill in name only," he said. "Passing a weak, neutered bill is exactly the wrong direction for our state.”

Weiner and other advocates, say they will fight to pass his original bill or something close to it. Lawmakers in the Assembly are scheduled to take up the bill again this week.

California is one of many states trying to pass its own net neutrality laws since the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal its rules last December. Washington state, for example, passed its own protections earlier this year, but they are weaker in some ways than the Obama-era FCC rules. Wiener aimed to provide a model for the rest of the country to follow with his more comprehensive bill. A similar bill was introduced recently in New York.