Prosecutors in, CPUC out as California’s net neutrality enforcer

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Democrats and republicans in Sacramento agree on at least two things: network neutrality rules are good and the job of enforcing them shouldn’t go to the California Public Utilities Commission. The California senate’s appropriations committee gave senate bill 460 a green light, and sent it on for a formal floor vote yesterday, after wrangling a promise of significant changes.

Senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles) authored SB 460. As originally written, it would have revived net neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission scrapped last month. Committee democrats liked that, republicans didn’t. But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle objected to making the CPUC California’s broadband cop. The appropriations committee chair, senator Ricardo Lara (D – Bell Gardens) opened discussion of SB 460 yesterday by announcing that de Leon agreed to change tack…

The author has committed to…amending the bill prior to a vote on the senate floor to address those concerns by striking out the CPUC as the oversight agency and instead designating the [California attorney general], the DAs – the district attorneys – and the city attorneys as enforcement entities.

Lara also said that de Leon would add language requiring state agencies to buy Internet service from providers that follow net neutrality principles, a feature of a parallel bill, SB 822, by senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), and something that has a far better chance of surviving a federal court challenge.

Republicans seem to be warming to the idea. Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) endorsed the decision to put enforcement duties in the hands of state and local prosecutors – who already have consumer protection responsibilities – then went on to say she’s “working very hard to ensure net neutrality is there, but not through a regulatory structure that creates a patchwork that we would have to deal with as we travel to other states”. Bates didn’t mention how she intended to do it, though.

The state senate either has to vote on SB 460 before the end of the month, or it automatically dies. Even if it does, SB 822 will continue chugging along – it’s a brand new bill with different, more generous deadlines.