California bill looks to preserve net-neutrality rules

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California lawmaker has introduced legislation that looks to maintain net-neutrality rules recently scuttled by the Federal Communications Commission, setting up a likely showdown with influential internet companies and, if his bill passes, with the Trump administration in court.

Sen. Scott Wiener released the details Tuesday of a plan aiming to maintain a level playing field on the internet. His bill would prohibit internet providers from blocking or slowing data based on its content or from favoring websites or video streams from companies that pay extra.

"No one wants broadband providers to decide what websites we're allowed to access," said Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat. "We all want to make that decision for ourselves."

The FCC in December repealed rules enacted during the Obama administration meant to prevent  Comcast, AT&T and other broadband companies from exercising more control over what people watch and see over the internet.

Some fear that, absent the rules, internet providers could create "fast lanes" and "slow lanes" on the internet to favor their own sites and apps or make it harder for consumers to see content from their competitors. That could limit consumer choice or shut out upstart companies that can't afford to buy access to the fast lane, critics worry.

Wiener's bill would require online data to be treated the same. It also would make it illegal to specify favored content that would not count against a monthly data cap.

Internet companies, which argue that net-neutrality rules discourage investment in broadband networks, is likely to mount an aggressive fight against Wiener's bill.

"Broadband providers support an open internet with bright line net neutrality rules, but we simply cannot have 50 different state regulations governing our internet - consumers expect and demand a single, consistent, common-sense approach," said Sally Aman, a spokeswoman for USTelecom, an industry group.

Congress should enact bipartisan legislation that spells out the rules for the internet, Aman said.

California would likely face a lawsuit if Wiener's bill passes the Legislature and is signed into law. The FCC specifically barred states from enacting their own net-neutrality rules, but Wiener said the federal agency lacks that authority and the state has the legal right to protect the interests of consumers in California.

"The bill ensures that ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon can't use their power over the on-ramps to the internet to interfere with the free markets that depend on the internet," Barbara van Schewick, a Stanford Law School professor and director of the school's Center for Internet and Society, said in a statement.

 Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed the first state-level net neutrality law March 5. A more limited Oregon bill, which would only prohibit the state from buying internet service from companies that blocks or prioritizes specific content, is awaiting action by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who has said she'll sign it.

Governors in five states — Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana and Vermont — have signed  executive orders related to net-neutrality issues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Photo: Getty Images

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