Add one more front in California’s war with the Trump administration: net neutrality.
State lawmakers returned to Sacramento this week to consider, among other things, a work-around in response to the Federal Communication Commission’s disgraceful decision to allow internet service providers to play favorites.
Acting on a party-line vote, the FCC, now led by a former Verizon lawyer, freed ISPs to speed up, slow down or block content when it suits their purposes. The rules adopted Dec. 14 also allow ISPs to charge online companies extra for faster speeds — costs that will be passed on to broadband consumers and could hinder startups, nonprofits and small companies that can’t afford to pay premium prices.
Think of it as extending the cable TV model to the internet: high cost for basic service, a lot more for anything else.
But in an increasingly wired world, where work, study and personal finances often require online access (and streaming video is an attractive alternative to cable), it’s much easier to cut the cord on TV than it is to do without broadband internet.
This is a national concern, and the best solution would be a federal law restoring net neutrality. Unfortunately, Congress appears to be headed in the opposite direction.
That’s why California and several other states are looking to implement their own net-neutrality rules. In Sacramento, a bill introduced by state Senate President Kevin de León would:
— Make it unlawful for broadband internet providers to block or limit services, interfere with customers’ access or engage in deceptive marketing practices.
— Allow the California attorney general or any district attorney or city attorney to enforce the rules under the state’s unfair business practices law.
— Direct the California Public Utilities Commission to establish rules to enforce the state’s net neutrality requirements.
Congress ought to be discussing similar mechanisms to maintain a level playing field on the web, and Democrats gathered enough signatures to force a Senate vote.
However, there’s no indication that vote will come anytime soon, that the House will vote at all or that the president, who appointed the FCC chairman, would sign a law re-establishing net neutrality.
Meanwhile, a House bill introduced by Republican Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the top congressional recipient of campaign contributions from the telecommunications industry, would codify most of the worst parts of the FCC’s new rules into federal law.
For many years, states’ rights were a cornerstone of the Republican platform. That appeared to be forgotten as soon as the GOP took the reins of power in Washington. Blackburn’s bill is no exception. It would specifically bar states from adopting “any law, rule, regulation, duty, requirement, standard or other provision” related to net neutrality.
Some of the biggest names in tech — Facebook, Google and Uber among them — tried to persuade the FCC to leave net neutrality in place. They failed. Maybe they will have better luck in Congress, where saving the status quo might allow states to step in until a more consumer-friendly Congress is elected.