California net neutrality bills back on track

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The new versions of senate bills 822 and 460 were filed in Sacramento yesterday, and appear to once again be a legitimate revival of network neutrality, as promised last month.

SB 822, authored by senator Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco), is the big kahuna. The bill reinstates the three bright line rules first adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015, when it had a democratic majority, and then repealed in 2017 after republicans took control: no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation.

Zero rating – not counting certain content against subscribers’ monthly data caps – is also on the list of banned practices, unless its done across the board. It would be okay for AT&T to say all data used to watch video is zero rated, but not for it to limit the freebie to its own content, for example movies produced by Warner Brothers or distributed by DirecTv.

There’s language that attempts to close loopholes. ISPs couldn’t erect upstream toll gates for content or application providers, or deliver an in-house service over a subscriber’s connection and claim it wasn’t coming via the Internet. In other words, the bandwidth you buy is your bandwidth.

One change that’s been made is to draw a distinction between fixed – wireless or wireline – and mobile Internet service. At this point, the same rules would apply to both kinds of service. If it was done to limit the damage done by the inevitable court challenges, then it’s a good thing. It needs to be closely watched, though, to make sure that the change isn’t an invitation for the army of lobbyists fighting the bill to fiddle with it.

SB 460, by senator Kevin de Leon, would require state and local agencies to only buy Internet services from ISPs that abide by SB 822’s rules.

The bills are tied together. Both have to pass for either to take effect. There are some committee hurdles for the bills to get over, but that’s a formality so long as democratic leaders are on board. The legislature has until the end of the month to act.