California Votes For Net Neutrality, Challenges FCC's Repeal

AH Internet Net Neutrality 2

The California State Senate on Monday voted to enact SB-460, a bill meant to define net neutrality protections in the most populous U.S. state. The move challenges the recent repeal of Title II regulations by the Federal Communications Commission and will likely result in a legal clash between the two. The bill proposed by Senator Kevin de León and last amended on January 22nd is now moving from the Senate to the State Assembly, the lower house of the California State Legislature that’s also expected to greenlight it. The initial test had 21 representatives vote for enacting SB-460, with 13 being against it. All votes that saw the bill pass its first democracy test came from members of the Democratic party which also holds an overwhelming majority in the State Assembly, having 53 representatives against 25 GOP members.

The bill doesn’t just explicitly prohibit any kind of blocking, throttling, or other forms of censoring “lawful content” but also prevents Internet service providers from misrepresenting any practices that could affect the principles of the open web. While AT&T recently called for similar rules on a federal level, California’s legislature goes a step further and outlaws paid prioritization, i.e. the practice of creating fast lanes and asking website owners and other Internet companies to pay for their services to be accessed faster. In cases that warrant some form of throttling for network management reasons stemming from valid infrastructural concerns, ISPs would be required to throttle access to all websites and not discriminate against any particular domain, as per the same bill. Any violations would be litigated against based on California’s consumer protection laws in force, whereas the state itself wouldn’t purchase services from past offenders of the regulations, with that particular provision recently being adopted in the form of executive orders by the Governors of Montana and New York.

While the original version of SB-460 introduced the legislation as part of an amendment to the state’s Public Utilities Code, the bill that has now been approved by the Senate is instead meant to be added to the Civil Code, whereas the part about withholding state contracts from its offenders is to be implemented into the Public Contract Code. The decision is significant because many ISPs previously claimed their lobbying efforts against Title II protections are largely motivated by the fact that they oppose being classified as utility providers, which is a categorization that the new bill avoids. Even though executive orders against awarding state contracts to net neutrality violators can hardly be affected by the FCC, the regulator is likely to engage in a legal battle with California due to its direct attempt to outlaw net neutrality, defying the agency’s federal appeal. The FCC’s decision to dismantle net neutrality protections has already been challenged in a number of courts and should be the subject of multiple trials over the course of this year.