California Lawmakers Pass Nation’s Toughest Net Neutrality Law

California Lawmakers Pass Nation’s Toughest Net Neutrality Law
California Lawmakers Pass Nation’s Toughest Net Neutrality Law

WASHINGTON — California lawmakers on Friday passed a net neutrality bill that would guarantee full and equal access to the internet for its residents, in the biggest pushback yet to the Federal Communications Commission’s rollback of rules last year.

The bill is viewed as even stronger than those previous federal rules and is sure to set up a fight between broadband providers, like Verizon and AT&T, and consumer groups, which will be joined by internet sites like Etsy and Reddit.

“When Donald Trump’s F.C.C. decided to take a wrecking ball to net neutrality protections, we knew that California had to step in to ensure our residents have access to a free and open internet,” State Senator Scott Wiener, one of the bill’s authors, said in a statement.

Lawmakers in California are seeking to bar internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast from blocking or slowing down the transmission of web traffic to the state’s broadband customers. The bill, which heads to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown to be signed into law, would also prohibit promotions of free streaming for apps, a practice that can stifle the businesses of other websites that are not part of such promotions.

California would become the fourth state to create net neutrality laws since the federal rollback of rules in December. But it is the most significant, and its legislation is viewed as being even stricter than the overturned federal rules. California’s laws also have enormous influence across the country. Its higher standards for auto emissions, for example, have been followed by a dozen other states, giving California major sway over the auto industry.

“This bill would set a tremendous precedent, with the power to shape the internet market not just in California but across the country for the betterment of consumers,” Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in a statement.

The law would face fierce resistance from telecommunications companies. Through their trade group, the United States Telecom Association, broadband providers lobbied against the bill, warning that the rules on their management of traffic would stifle innovations and business models. The broadband providers are expected to sue to overturn the California law, citing a provision in federal rules that prohibit states from reinstating net neutrality rules. The fight could eventually wind up before the Supreme Court.

“The internet must be governed by a single, uniform and consistent national policy framework, not state-by-state piecemeal approaches,” Jonathan Spalter, president of the trade group, said in a statement.

The bill would become California’s second major internet law passed in the last few months. In June, California passed an internet privacy law, the first in the nation.

Governor Brown, a Democrat, has not indicated his view on the bill, but it was widely supported by Democrats in the Legislature and by federal Democratic lawmakers from California like Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader.

The California bill is the most significant victory for supporters of net neutrality rules since the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, scrapped federal rules last year that forbid blocking or slowing down of websites. Net neutrality advocates view broadband providers as important utilitylike services like the phone.

Mr. Pai viewed the rules as burdensome. Telecom companies said they wanted to experiment with business models such as free streaming promotions over mobile phones with business partners. The broadband providers promised they would not block or intentionally slow down other websites in an anticompetitive manner.

But consumer groups and internet websites have been waging an effort in states to revive rules. Similar laws have been passed in Washington, Vermont and Oregon. Several governors have signed executive orders that require any broadband provider to abide by net neutrality rules if they provide service to a state office or agency.

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