Another net neutrality bill hits Sacramento with wishful thinking, better focus

5 January 2018 by Steve Blum
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A second net neutrality resurrection bill is on the table in the California legislature, introduced by senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco). Senate bill 822 is more targeted than the high visibility, low probability shotgun approach taken by senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles) in senate bill 460. But it still has serious, likely fatal, problems.

Wiener’s bill is also vague. It’s a checklist of goals, rather than specific legal language that would accomplish anything. But that can come later. SB 822 identifies four broadband-specific areas of the law that are arguably under California’s jurisdiction. It would:

  • Require broadband providers to abide by net neutrality rules if they want to sell services to state agencies and, I’m assuming, local governments.
  • Use consumer protection laws to encourage – force? – broadband companies to follow net neutrality principles.
  • Obligate cable companies to adopt net neutrality practices and promote “the availability of municipal broadband”.
  • Link permits and pole attachment rights for small cells and other wireless broadband facilities to “adherence to net neutrality”.

Those areas of the law are only arguably under state control. If passed, all would be instantly challenged in court. Inserting net neutrality-specific provisions into consumer, cable franchise, and wireless permit and pole attachment laws is a lost cause, although a requirement that state and local government buy broadband service only from net neutral providers could survive. The Federal Communications Commission’s draft order repealing net neutrality generally preempts state laws that address it (the final, approved version hasn’t been published yet), and its existing rules governing wireless permits and cable franchises would similarly apply, or be quickly amended to do so.

Then there’s the political side of it. Lobbyists, particularly from cable and wireless companies, will go nuts. They’ll swarm lawmakers, waving threats of political retaliation in one hand and generous cash payments in the other.

Guess which hand wins?

Update: the final version of the FCC’s decision repealing net neutrality and rolling back common carrier status for broadband service has been posted. Click here.