California senate leadership will decide if net neutrality goes to a vote

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A bill to reinstate network neutrality rules in California is in legislative limbo. The senate appropriations committee put senate bill 460 into the suspense file, where it’ll sit until the end of the week. At that point the committee, in consultation with senate leadership, will decide whether it will move on to a floor vote.

Opinions split along party lines on the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to roll back broadband’s status as a common carrier service, and in the process eliminate rules that banned paid prioritisation, throttling and blocking of Internet traffic. Republicans thought the federal government is doing a fine job with telecoms policy, while democrats begged to differ. But there was bipartisan agreement on one point – if the state does decide to try to regulate broadband service, the job should not go to the California Public Utilities Commission.

“Historically, we have the problem of overplacement of responsibility at the PUC”, said senator Jerry Hill (D – San Bruno). “Wherever this goes, the PUC is not the correct place”.

“It’s almost a blank check to the PUC…to fix a problem that doesn’t exist”, said senator Jim Nielsen (R – Tehama). It’s likely to be a substantial check – a preliminary estimate by the CPUC and the governor’s finance office puts the annual administrative tab at more than $1 million per year over the next five years.

That’s money that would have to be spent until – as is all but certain – a federal court eventually tosses out SB 460.

Because SB 460 was originally introduced as a broadband subsidy bill last year, then gutted and completely rewritten as a net neutrality bill this year, the appropriations committee has to approve it by the end of the week and the full senate has to act on it by the end of the month. Otherwise, it’ll die a quiet death.

There is another net neutrality bill in the hopper, though, one that was introduced this year and has a longer shelf life. SB 822, by senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), is more artfully – if still vaguely – crafted to survive legal challenges, although to what, if any, extent that’s even possible is debatable. Nevertheless, Wiener, who also thinks the CPUC is the wrong agency for the job, said during the hearing yesterday that he’s talking with SB 460’s author – senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles) – and “we want to work together collaboratively”.