California’s legislature has approved a bill being called the strongest net neutrality law in the US. The bill would ban internet providers from blocking and throttling legal content and prioritizing some sites and services over others. It would apply these restrictions to both home and mobile connections.
That would essentially restore the net neutrality rules enacted federally under former President Barack Obama, which were later repealed by the Federal Communications Commission under the watch and guidance of current chairman Ajit Pai. But this bill actually goes further than those rules with an outright ban on zero-rating — the practice of offering free data, potentially to the advantage of some companies over others — of specific apps. Zero-rating would, however, still be allowed as long as the free data applies to an entire category of apps. So an ISP could offer free data for all video streaming apps, but not just for Netflix.
The bill was cleared with a final vote in the state Senate today, being approved 23-11. It passed in the State Assembly yesterday, after initially being approved in the Senate back in May. But the bill had changed in the ensuing months, so it needed to return to its chamber of origin today for final approval. The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the final legislation “a gold standard net neutrality bill.”
Now, the bill heads to the governor’s desk. California Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the legislation, but it’s garnered the support of top state Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Kamala Harris.
If it becomes law, internet providers are certain to sue. There’s already one clear obstacle: the FCC made a rule prohibiting states from creating net neutrality laws. That rule hasn’t been held up in court, and the last time the FCC tried to preempt state laws around broadband, it failed. But that’ll at least be one of the issues at play.
Several other states have taken action on net neutrality, but most have done so through executive orders or laws that skirt the FCC’s prohibition. California, on the other hand, is one of a small number of states tackling the issue head-on, which will certainly mean going to court.