Net neutrality bill lands in the California senate with dim hopes

4 January 2018 by Steve Blum
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A doomed attempt to impose network neutrality rules scrapped by the Federal Communications Commission is underway in Sacramento. California senate president pro tem Kevin de León (D – Los Angeles) gutted senate bill 460, a leftover broadband bill from last year, and replaced it with language that would reinstate the three “bright line rules” – no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation – adopted by the democratic majority FCC in 2015 and repealed by the republican majority FCC last month.

The attempt is doomed because even if it’s passed by the legislature and signed into law by governor Jerry Brown, it’ll be thrown out in court when it’s challenged, as it would be, by the telecoms industry. There are two problems with it. The FCC explicitly preempted any state level action that would go against last month’s decision and even if it hadn’t, it blew away the legal basis for net neutrality rules – state or federal – when it declared that broadband is not a common carrier service.

More plausibly, the bill calls for state money, for things such as broadband service contracts, California Advanced Services Fund subsidies and lifeline programs, to be spent in a way that requires compliance with net neutrality principles. The California Public Utilities Commission would also have to establish a broadband consumer protection program, including speed tests to verify advertised speeds.

Then there’s that if. So far in this session, which began last year, feel good broadband bills have been introduced, log rolled along with much self congratulations and then quietly killed or amended beyond recognition while attention was elsewhere. What matters is what the legislature eventually passes, if it passes anything at all, and not what’s simply introduced.

Because it’s technically unfinished business from last year, there’s a short timeline for dealing with it. SB 460 has to make it out of the committee process and onto the senate floor in the next two weeks.