California’s Chance To Lead on Net Neutrality
In a recent speech to the Main Heritage Policy Center, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called California a “nanny-state” for attempting to pass net neutrality legislation. Chairman Pai’s remarks come at a time when the FCC repealed its net neutrality rules.
Net neutrality is the principle of open access to the internet. It enables users to access the services they want without interferences from their internet service provider. It gives users the ultimate choice to decide what they want they want to do, what they want to see, and how they want to interact online. This principle is critical to a 21st century democracy. The free flow of information online and the exchange of ideas depends on net neutrality. Otherwise, internet service providers can control where we go and what we do online hindering free expression, innovation, and consumer choice.
With so much potential to control the internet, it’s no surprise the FCC’s net neutrality rules were overwhelmingly popular. The most recent national poll shows 86 percent of Americans opposed the repeal of net neutrality including 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats.
California has a chance not just to save net neutrality but to also serve as leaders. In August, both the California Assembly and California Senate passed SB 822 on a bipartisan basis – The California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018. The bill not only restores the FCC’s bright line net neutrality rules of no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. It also comprehensively restores all the protections embodied in the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order. This ensures internet service providers can’t use loopholes not covered in the bright line rules to discriminate against internet traffic. California’s bill is the first of its kind and can serve as a model for other states to follow at a time when there are no federal protections.
Chairman Pai’s attack on California comes after he not only repealed net neutrality rules but also completely abdicated the FCC’s authority over broadband. What we’ve seen since his actions is a wild west where internet service providers are free to do what they want. In August, it was revealed that Verizon had throttled the Santa Clara fire department during the wildfire response. While this may not have been a net neutrality violation, it’s a clear sign of an internet service provider abusing its power at a time when there’s no longer a cop on the beat to investigate and take appropriate action. A recent study also showed internet service providers were throttling popular video apps like Youtube and Netflix earlier this year. And let’s not forget about the long history of net neutrality violations – whether that’s AT&T blocking Face Time or Sprint blocking Google Wallet – that dictated why we needed strong rules in the first place. Chairman Pai’s attack on California’s efforts while refusing to do his job speaks volumes to whose interests the current FCC is looking out for.
California has a chance to lead the way on net neutrality, but the clock is ticking. The bill is now on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for signature, and he has until the end of September to sign the bill into law. This is California’s opportunity to pave the way for strong net neutrality protections across the country and show Chairman Pai why Americans overwhelmingly support a free and open internet.
Yosef Getachew is the Director of the Media and Democracy Program at Common Cause, a nonprofit, nonpartisan good government group.