FCC chairman Ajit Pai said that California’s newly passed net neutrality bill is “egregious,” “radical, anti-consumer,” and “illegal” in a speech on Friday. The bill, which was passed last month but has not yet been signed into law, enacts even stricter net neutrality rules than those the FCC recently overturned. But it goes up against at least one major blockade: a commission rule banning state net neutrality laws.
Pai, naturally, believes the FCC’s rule will stand up, which would make California’s law illegal. He says that internet is an interstate service, so “it follows that only the federal government can set regulatory policy in this area.”
California legislators either believe this is wrong or are willing to put up a fight to find out, as they will inevitably have to hash this dispute out in court if the bill is signed into law. The state’s governor, Jerry Brown, hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the legislation yet, but top Democrats from the state have added their support behind it.
Pai calls state net neutrality laws the “latest tactic” used by net neutrality advocates to “demand greater government control of the Internet.” He says that “nanny-state California legislators” see free data as “the enemy” and want to take choice away from consumers.
The bill does not entirely ban free data, however. While it would prevent internet providers from selectively offering free data on specific apps — say, their own apps or apps from companies that can afford to pay them — they are not banned from offering free data on an entire category of apps. That means internet providers in California could still, for instance, offer free data on all music streaming apps, if they chose to.
Pai’s speech was made to a think tank focused on free market policy, and his criticism of the net neutrality law was largely framed in the way it puts limits on the market for internet providers. But net neutrality advocates have been arguing the ISP market needs regulation because it’s broken — there’s minimal competition, and internet providers can exert vast control that would stifle the market for many others who operate over it.
As Pai alluded to, California is one of many states considering net neutrality laws. Many states have taken smaller steps, such as requiring ISPs with government contracts to abide by net neutrality principles, but California’s bill defies the FCC in a way that most states have not by directly reinstating net neutrality protections.