The state versus federal argument looks like it is heading towards full-throttle as California passes what it describes as the toughest net neutrality laws in the country.
The FCC and President Trump’s administration are seemingly set on creating a regulation-free USA, though some states are not having it. California is the latest to demonstrate its mistrust of the US telcos, passing its own net neutrality laws.
“We passed the strongest net neutrality standards in the nation,” said State Senator Scott Wiener, who authored the bill alongside Senator Kevin de León. “The internet is at the heart of 21st century life – our economy, our public safety and health systems, and our democracy. So when Donald Trump’s FCC 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.”
Looking at the broadest of explanations, Senate Bill 822 prohibits blocking websites, speeding up or slowing down websites or whole classes of applications such as video. Certain aspect of zero rating will also be banned, unfortunately this is where the bill becomes a bit more complicated. Zero rating services, applications or content will be allowed, providing ‘no consideration, monetary or otherwise’ is paid to the ISP by third parties. This is the sort of grey area which lawyers dream about, and will encourage the creative thinkers of the judiciary community to hunt down the loop holes.
While the Trump administration and the FCC have been consistently moving to eradicate every aspect of net neutrality from the rule books, this move from California could threaten to fuel the state versus federal jurisdiction arguments and power plays which we have seen in years gone. In the latest version of the Communications Act, the legislation which underpins all telecommunications regulations in the US, states any state-level rules which contradicts the position of the FCC are invalid. This would suggest Senate Bill 822 will have a short lived life, though should the dominos start to fall who knows what could happen. How many states would have to pass laws contradicting the Communications Act for something to be done?
Privacy-advocacy groups, coalitions of private businesses, attorney generals and more have been challenging the FCC dismantling of the rules, and the escalation of this saga seems to be entering into uncharted territories. We have been talking about a need for an opposition win in the net neutrality resistance, but whether this can topple some dominos remains to be seen.
This is not the first state wide resistance to the FCC’s attack on net neutrality, with Washington State passing House Bill 2282 in March, with the rules coming into effect on June 6. While there has been a lot of posturing and promises about defying the FCC position, that is until Wiener and his meaty balls stepped up. Perhaps this might encourage other states to move forward with their own ambitions.
That said, the telco lobbyists and supporter of more light-touch regulatory environments are powerful. Over the last couple of years, dozens upon dozens of proposed laws to increase user privacy and scale back the untouchable power of the telcos have been defeated by money. In Kentucky for instance, House Bill 332 failed. This bill proposed no telco or ISP would collect personally identifiable information from a customer as a result of the customer’s use of the telecommunications or internet services without the customer’s approval. In Nebraska, LR 453 would have allowed for an interim study to examine the impact of net neutrality, though this failed.
There are countless examples of the sticky telco fingers prodding various bills, which perhaps make the passing of both the Washington and California bills a bit more impressive. With the net neutrality debate continuing to rumble on, the conflict between the states and the White House will only escalate. If more states start passing net neutrality laws, ignoring federal guidance and the chain of command, what will be the reaction of central government?