LA Times: California's plan to protect net neutrality will shield consumers from telecom bullies

April 23, 2018

By Michael Hiltzik

Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and other big internet service providers must be wondering if they didn't outsmart themselves by lobbying the federal government to kill network neutrality rules.

President Trump's Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai, served as the executioner last December. He and the Republican majority on the FCC reversed a rule that had been in place since 2015, prohibiting the big ISPs from using their market power to favor some websites and services over others.

Pai's order created a vacuum in oversight of net neutrality that is getting filled by states. Washington state and Oregon already have enacted net neutrality laws, and governors in at least five states — Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana and Vermont — have signed executive orders upholding the principle. The latest to take a crack at the issue is California, where the most comprehensive state measure to create net neutrality protections had its first hearing before the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee on Tuesday.

AT&T and a consortium of California ISPs sent lobbyists to the Capitol to decry the bill as a menace to consumers and a threat to the state economy. The opponents warn that the state bill is preempted by federal law, though since the FCC actually took itself out of the business of regulating network neutrality, that's questionable.

"They will sue, they will raise every conceivable argument," Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill's sponsor, told me. "They have every right in the world to do that. But we think we have the right to protect consumers and businesses in the state."

For those who haven't followed the network neutrality debate, here's a short primer. Network neutrality is the principle that ISPs, which own the "last mile" interconnection between the internet and your home or business, can't use their position to block content they don't like, charge providers more for a "fast lane" into the home or stifle providers offering services that compete with the ISPs' own.

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