By Patrick McGreevy
Ending a dispute over a proposed net neutrality bill, California Democratic legislators said Thursday they have agreed on a proposal that would provide the strongest protections of open access to the internet in the country in response to last month's federal repeal of similar rules.
The compromise measures, which still require legislative approval, would bar internet service providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down websites and video, as well as charging websites fees for fast lanes, said state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), an author of one of the two proposed bills.
Last month, Wiener accused fellow lawmakers of eviscerating his legislation in committee and said he no longer could support the main bill.
But Wiener and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) appeared together at a news conference Thursday to announce a compromise proposal.
"Collectively this will be the most comprehensive and the strongest net neutrality protection in the United States," Wiener said at a Capitol news conference. The new legislation, Wiener said, "will protect California consumers and set the standard for pro-internet efforts throughout the country."
California is one of 29 states that have proposed legislation on net neutrality, including Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, while action has been taken on bills in Oregon and Washington, officials said.
"As internet service providers and media companies like AT&T and Time Warner consolidate, net neutrality is more important than ever," Wiener said.
Two measures by Wiener and Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) address concerns over the June 11 decision by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal net neutrality rules approved during the Obama administration.
Without those regulations, internet service providers can slow or block services such as online video or calling unless fees are paid, Wiener said.
That, the senator said, allows internet service providers to limit choice and increase prices, with disproportionate harm falling on low-income residents. To win back Wiener's support, the agreement restores previously removed provisions to his bill. The compromise legislation would prohibit internet service providers from charging websites fees for faster service while blocking or slowing websites that do not pay extra.
Senate Bill 822 also would bar internet service providers from circumventing the rules at the point where data enter their network and from levying access fees to reach internet service customers, officials said.
In addition, providers would have to count the content and websites they own against subscribers' data caps.
The bill must be approved by the full Assembly and Senate to be sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration.
De León's SB 460 will focus on requiring internet service providers that have state contracts to comply with the principles of net neutrality.
"In the aftermath of Trump's destruction of the internet, we are advancing legislation with the strongest net neutrality and consumer protections in the nation," said Santiago, who is chairman of the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance.
Santiago said a free and open internet is tied to "the fight for social change and progressive values."
"Citizens United, the Janus decision and now the threat of a Supreme Court nomination under Trump makes this net neutrality legislation more important than ever," he said.
Opponents of the legislation said they want to see the language of the new bills before taking a firm position.
The California Cable & Telecommunications Assn. has previously said in a letter to legislators that the original proposal was "inconsistent with the federal regulatory framework governing ISPs and would provide no benefit to the average broadband consumer."
Carolyn McIntyre, the president of the group, said Thursday, "to the extent that they are putting back provisions that were removed from the bill, our opposition letter to the pre-amended version of the bill would likely be on point."
Ernesto Falcon, an attorney for the open-internet group Electronic Frontier Foundation, declared it "a great day for California internet users," but he predicted major internet firms will try to kill the proposal.
"We are not out of the woods on this bill," Wiener cautioned. "This is going to be a fight. The telecom and cable companies fight hard."
De León said the proposal is a repudiation of the Trump administration's policy.
"If the Trump administration won't protect consumers, the state of California will," De León said. "... A free and open internet is vital to our democracy and our way of life."
(c)2018 the Los Angeles Times