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California lawmakers restore tougher net neutrality provisions

A committee removed the loopholes that it added to the original bill

Photo (c) nevarpp - Getty Images
California's tough net neutrality bill, stripped of much of its enforcement powers by a legislative committee, is tough once again.

The bill's author, State Senator Scott Weiner, says the General Assembly's Communications Committee has restored most of the original provisions, which were written to mirror the national policy put in place under the Obama Administration.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under President Trump, began the process of repealing the national policy last December.

“After Donald Trump’s FCC obliterated net neutrality, we stepped in to protect California residents and businesses and to ensure an open internet,” Wiener said. “For months, we have worked with a broad coalition to pass strong and enforceable net neutrality protections. As internet service providers and media companies like AT&T and Time Warner consolidate, net neutrality is more important than ever."

Committee gutted the bill

Net neutrality supporters were outraged two weeks ago when the chairman of a key legislative committee amended the bill. At the time, Weiner said the watered down measure allowed for massive loopholes sought by major telecommunications companies.

For example, the amended bill would have allowed internet service providers (ISP) to charge websites a fee for consumers to access it. The amended bill also allowed ISPs to classify some content as "privileged," meaning it would not count against a consumer's allotted data, while other content would.

Critics were also unhappy that the amended bill would allow ISPs to throttle entire classes of applications. For example, providers could slow all online gaming or all online voice calls.

It prompted Weiner to call the amended version a "fake net neutrality bill." But after working with the chairman of the committee and other key lawmakers, Weiner says everyone has agreed to a version that closely resembles the original bill and reflects the FCC policy under the Obama administration.

States that pass strict net neutrality rules could pose a problem for ISPs and large telecom companies, which will have to abide by different sets of rules in different states.

What the bill does

Weiner said the revised net neutrality bill will prohibit the blocking of websites, the speeding up or slowing down of websites or whole classes of applications such as video, and the practice of charging websites for access to an ISP’s subscribers or for fast lanes to those subscribers.

The bill also bars ISPs from circumventing these protections at the point where data enters their networks, and from charging access fees to reach ISP customers.

It would also prevent companies like AT&T, which is both an ISP and a content provider, from not counting the content and websites they own against subscribers’ data caps.

Weiner said he is confident the revised package of net neutrality measures has the votes needed for passage. The California legislature has until August 31 to vote on it.

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