California Senate Passes Sweeping Net Neutrality Bill

The California state Senate on Wednesday approved a sweeping net neutrality bill that would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic, and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

The measure (SB 822), introduced earlier this year by state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), also explicitly restricts Internet service providers' ability to exempt some material from consumers' data caps, and limits some forms of paid "interconnection" agreements, which involve companies like Netflix paying broadband carriers to interconnect directly with their network.

The bill, which passed by a 23-12 vote in the Senate, now moves to the state Assembly. That body has until August to act.

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California's move comes almost six months after the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission repealed the Obama-era net neutrality rules. Chairman Ajit Pai has called those rules "heavy-handed," and argued that they depressed investment. But proponents of net neutrality rules say they're necessary to prevent broadband providers from engaging in censorship, and from harming competitors.

The nationwide repeal is scheduled to take effect June 11, unless blocked by the courts or Congress.

In the months since the FCC's vote, dozens of states have considered enacting their own state-specific rules. So far, officials in eight states have done so. Governors of Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Montana, Hawaii and Vermont signed orders requiring broadband carriers to adhere to the Obama-era net neutrality rules as a condition of contracting with state agencies. A seventh state -- Oregon -- recently passed a law that similarly prohibits state agencies from contracting with broadband providers that violate net neutrality principles. And an eighth state -- Washington -- passed another law that prohibits broadband providers operating in the state from blocking or throttling traffic and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.

Weiner's proposed bill in California is backed by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and advocacy groups like the Center for Democracy & Technology, Fight for the Future and Public Knowledge.

Broadband providers oppose the measure, arguing that internet policy should be set by the federal government, not individual states.

When the FCC voted to repeal the net neutrality rules, it also voted to block states from passing their own versions of the regulations. It's not yet clear whether that prohibition will be upheld in court.

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