From The Editors Technology

California Sets the Stage by Voting for Toughest Net Neutrality Laws in the Golden State

California lawmakers have decided to take the anti-net neutrality bull by the horns.

The state’s Senate on Friday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a net neutrality bill that seeks to impose tough laws against anti-net-neutrality practices by Internet providers, such as blocking or throttling legitimate content in order to benefit some crony sites and services.

The ball is now in Governor Jerry Brown’s court, awaiting the Democrat’s signature before it becomes the nation’s toughest law, protecting net neutrality.

It is sure to set a precedent for a growing number of states looking to enact similar legislation that ensures discrimination-free internet access for all – a revert to the Obama-era laws that the Ajit Pai-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed in June, despite a nationwide protest against the draconian move.

“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,” California State Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat and one of the authors of the bill ,said in a statement.

“We hope that other states can look to this legislation as a model for net neutrality standards,” he said.

Should the bill come into effect, Internet providers will be banned from manipulating apps and website content to prioritize vested business interests – of the unethical and illegal kind.

Governor Brown, who has not yet made his intentions public, has until September 30 to contemplate whether he should veto the bill or sign it for implementation.

However, considering the broad support the bill enjoys from state Democrats, one gets the feeling he might just sign it into law.

If it does happen, California would become the fourth state, after Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, to enact net neutrality legislation after the FCC’s June rollback of the Open Internet Order protecting net neutrality, put in place by the Obama administration in February 2015.

“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,” Consumers Union’s senior policy counsel Jonathan Schwantes said in a statement.

The FCC’s dismantling of the regulations that ensured unprejudiced internet access to all, has given too much power to Internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and a few others, who can now determine and control what users can see online, and at what price and speed.

It doesn’t really take a rocket scientist to work out that financially strong companies, capable of paying a higher premium to these providers, will be given preference over lesser entities, in terms of speedier access to their sites and services and other related advantages.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai – a Trump appointee – was the main architect of the diabolical proposal to repeal the rule against Internet interference by prominent Internet providers.

In July 2017, more than 80,000 websites including tech giants Google, Amazon, and many others had called for a “Day of Action” – in support of net neutrality which the FCC was hell-bent on doing away with, and ultimately did.

The protest involved the coming together of tens of thousands of online activists and businesses, big and small, to inform users about the Trump administration’s plans to hand over control of how we access the internet today, to a handful of service providers.

One of the arguments against the bill by companies like AT&T and Comcast is that it could potentially increase the cost of internet for users.

“The ban on zero rating could lead to an increase of $30 a month on the bills of low income Californians and the ban on interconnection fees could lead to a reduction in investment in California by more than $1 billion a year,” AT&T said in a statement. “We support an open internet, but this bill move us no closer to that.”

Industry groups opposed to the idea of a free and fair internet policy are, obviously, doing everything within their means to influence Governor Brown into vetoing the bill.

“The internet must be governed by a single, uniform and consistent national policy framework, not state-by-state piecemeal approaches,” President & CEO of USTelecom Jonathan Spalter said in a statement.

“Governor Brown should use his veto pen on this legislation, and Congress should step in to legislate and provide consumer protections that will resolve this issue once and for all,” Spalter said.

“Net neutrality is the free speech fight of our generation, and we’re winning,” said Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, a non-profit advocacy group in favor of the legislation.

“If there’s one thing this victory in California shows it’s that Internet users are still royally pissed off about the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality,” he said.

Greer added: “They’re still paying attention. And they’re not going to let their elected officials get away with selling out their constituents by siding with big telecom companies.”

According to the NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) – a bipartisan NGO serving members and staff of U.S. state legislatures since the mid-seventies – Governors in six states, including Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana, Rhode Island, Vermont, have signed executive orders.

Plus, the states of Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as mentioned earlier, have already enacted net neutrality legislation.

The NCSL website also says that 30 states have so far introduced 72 bills demanding net neutrality compliance by internet providers, while lawmakers in and the District of Columbia and 13 other states have introduced 23 resolutions opposing the FCC’s rollback of the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules.

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