Futile or not, California senate committee approves net neutrality bill

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Network neutrality rules were endorsed by the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee last week. On a 7 to 2 party line vote – democrats aye, republicans nay –the committee approved senate bill 460, by senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles). It would reinstate the net neutrality requirements that the Federal Communications Commission repealed last month.

The bill is supported by consumer advocacy groups, and opposed by telecoms companies, including AT&T, Frontier Communications and Comcast’s and Charter’s lobbying front, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (although someone needs to check in with Comcast – it has not ruled out paid prioritisation, as CCTA’s chief lobbyist, Carolyn McIntyre, testified).

On the face of it, SB 460 has no practical effect so long as the FCC decision, which explicitly preempts state-level net neutrality rules, stands. As the committee’s staff analysis delicately noted…

Under the Order that was just issued, the FCC states they “preempt any state or local measures that would effectively impose rules or requirements that we have repealed or decided to refrain from imposing in this order.” As such, the success of implementing this bill is largely hinged on the new order being repealed or rejected, in whole or in part. Considering the high likelihood that the courts will be asked to weigh in, it seems within the realm of possibilities that the new order may not withstand a court challenge.

But if the FCC’s decision is tossed out in court, the federal net neutrality rules snap back into place. So there’s not much practical value to de Leon’s bill, except that it gets him noticed by voters who care about such things, without greatly upsetting the big money donors who oppose it. De Leon needs a lot of name recognition and cash – he’s running for the U.S. senate against Dianne Feinstein, who has plenty of both.

Among those voting yes was senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), who has introduced net neutrality bill with a somewhat different approach. Wiener was glad that de Leon was also pushing for net neutrality, but he had concerns about whether SB 460 would withstand court challenges. He – and most of the other committee members – also expressed misgivings about making the California Public Utilities Commission the state’s Internet cop.

The next stop for the bill is the senate’s appropriations committee, which is scheduled to consider it tomorrow.