Net neutrality bills converge at the California capitol

14 June 2018 by Steve Blum
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The two network neutrality bills moving through the California legislature will finally be reviewed together, or at least one after the other, in a committee hearing. Next week, the California assembly’s communications and conveyances committee is schedule to take up senate bills 460 and 822.

SB 822, by senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) is the stiffer and better written measure. It mimics the same three bright line rules that the Federal Communications Commission enforced until this past Monday – no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation – and adds zero rating to the list.

Zero rating is the practice of not counting a carrier’s own content against data caps. For example, if AT&T said that its mobile customers could watch all the DirecTv video they wanted, but anything they streamed from Netflix would count against their monthly data limit, then that would be zero rating.

State and local agencies would also not be allowed to buy Internet service – mobile or fixed – from companies that don’t abide by SB 822’s rules.

The bill was recently amended, but the changes are generally technical. A sharper distinction was drawn between “mass market” and “enterprise” services – the rules would apply to mass market service, but not to “offering[s] to larger organisations through customised or individually negotiated arrangements or special access services”. Language that specifically authorises the California attorney general to bring offending companies to court was eliminated. The net neutrality rules would be written into consumer protection law, which already gives the attorney general authority to act.

SB 460 is authored by senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles). It was cobbled together as a legislative deadline ticked down at the beginning of the year and isn’t as well thought out as SB 822. But de Leon was senate majority leader until recently and has the desperate job of trying to unseat fellow democrat Diane Feinstein in this year’s U.S. senate race. Owning a bill that takes on a high profile issue targeted by democrats at the national level will help him raise money and gain name recognition.

Both bills won’t make it through the legislative process and land on governor Brown’s desk. The likeliest outcome will be for the two to be combined into a jointly authored bill. The best opportunity to do so might come at next Wednesday’s hearing. The question is whether the often industry-friendly communications and conveyances committee will choose the weaker or stronger option.