As goes California, so might the rest of the country.
Internet service providers interested in selling a tiered internet were dealt a major blow on Friday when the state Senate approved net neutrality protections for its people. Essentially, net neutrality is achieved when all internet content loads at the same speed, regardless of type. We know, it sounds incredibly boring, as comedian John Oliver first pointed out in 2014:
“Yes, net neutrality. The only two words that promise more boredom in the English language are ‘featuring Sting,’” Oliver joked back in 2014 on Last Week Tonight. The FCC tactic of burying net neutrality’s importance in dry, technical language seems like an effort to keep the masses at bay, but Friday’s vote signals that those days are numbered.
Jerry Brown on SB822
California Governor Jerry Brown hasn’t commented on the bill’s passage, but he has until the end of September to sign the bill into law or veto it. If he does it could start a wave of support for restoring net neutrality.
CA Has Strongest Net Neutrality Laws in the USA
The victory in California creates even stronger consumer protections than the Obama-era ones the FCC repealed: It bans cell phone companies from offering a “zero rating” feature to plans that would allow customers to stream music (or other media) at no cost to their data plan, effectively freezing out the competition. No even the Obama-era FCC rules offered that protection.
A Domino Effect
California’s victory may create a domino effect, too. Internet service providers, or ISPs for short, have little interest in creating different streaming plans by state. It’s a logistical and technological nightmare. If SB 822 becomes law, someone in California will have all their internet content load at the same speed. If that person crosses the border into Nevada, where there’s no net neutrality protections, the speeds change to fit whatever other pricing scheme has been sold to the customer there. It’s complicated.
A patchwork of different laws by state is never conducive to operating a streamlined business, but it is often the result of inadequate (or just bad) federal policy. California’s new law may inspire lawmakers in other states to pass net neutrality protections.
The National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state policy, reported this week that 30 states have net neutrality proposals on the books:
Legislators in 30 states have introduced over 72 bills requiring internet service providers to ensure various net neutrality principles. In 13 states and the District of Columbia, legislators introduced 23 resolutions primarily expressing opposition to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of net neutrality rules; urging the U.S. Congress enact legislation reinstating and requiring the preservation of net neutrality; or stating the chamber’s support of general net neutrality principles.
The grassroots support for net neutrality may force the hand of FCC or Congress to overturn the policy ironically named “Restoring Internet Freedom,” which was approved in December by the FCC and took effect in June.
Legal Challenges to FCC Ruling
This past Tuesday, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo led a coalition of their colleagues (27 Senators and 76 members of the House) in filing an amicus brief to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, urging it to overturn the FCC’s decision:
In sum, the FCC’s reclassification decision in its 2017 Order is based entirely in the misuse of language. It is divorced from the practical realities that supported the FCC’s 2015 classification decision. And it leads immediately to absurd results. It is an abuse of discretion which this Court should overturn.
The the congressional appeal to the court involves a case being brought by the non-profit Mozilla Corporation, makers of the privacy-focused Firefox internet browser (“Firefox is part of Mozilla’s mission to keep you in control of your online experience and ensure that the web stays weird, healthy and inviting to all,” reads a mission statement of sorts emailed to people who download the browser.) Other petitioners in the Mozilla case against the FCC include Vimeo, the State of New York, Etsy, and the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, which alleged its internet speeds throttled by Verizon when fighting wildfires that were ravaging California.
Also backing the lawsuit are top officials in 27 cities, reports GeekWire.
Kicking off the backlash to the FCC’s removal of net neutrality protections was a lawsuit filed in federal court by 22 states and the District of Columbia.
While net neutrality officially died on June 11 when the FCC order went into effect, the move to save it began FCC chairman Ajit Pai sentenced it to death in December.
But like all things in law, it can be brought back to life, and the passage of SB 822 in California seems to be a major push in the right direction. The FCC policy can be overturned, but the most permanent solution that would override FCC policy and state law would be a congressional net neutrality law. In the near-term that doesn’t seem likely, but could become expected if some of those 30 states pass their own net neutrality laws.
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