California's new net neutrality legislation is "illegal," "anti-consumer," and reflects an attempt by "nanny-state" legislators to constrain consumers, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Friday.
"Last month, the California state legislature passed a radical, anti-consumer Internet regulation bill that would impose restrictions even more burdensome than those adopted by the FCC in 2015," Pai said in a speech delivered at the Maine Heritage Policy Center in Portland.
"California’s micromanagement poses a risk to the rest of the country," Pai added, explaining that he believes that states can't legally regulate broadband traffic. "Internet traffic doesn’t recognize state lines. It follows that only the federal government can set regulatory policy in this area."
California's law, SB 822, prohibits broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic, charging higher fees for fast-lane service, and from exempting their own video streams from consumers' data caps. The measure awaits Governor Jerry Brown's signature.
The bill largely restores the Obama-era open internet rules. Those rules, which were repealed last December by the FCC, prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling data and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery. The former rules didn't explicitly ban companies from zero-rating -- or exempting material from subscribers' data caps. But the ex-rules contained a "general conduct" standard that had been interpreted as prohibiting some forms of zero-rating -- including AT&T's "Data Free TV," which allows wireless customers who purchase DirecTV to stream video without burning through their monthly data caps.
On Friday, Pai specifically criticized the ban on zero-rating plans, arguing that consumers like data-cap exemptions.
"These plans ... have proven enormously popular in the marketplace, especially among lower-income Americans," Pai said. "But nanny-state California legislators apparently want to ban their constituents from having this choice. They have met the enemy, and it is free data."
California Senator Scott Wiener, who sponsored the bill, responded in a statement that the law is supported by "a broad coalition of consumer groups, groups advocating for low income people, small and mid-size technology companies, labor unions and President Obama's FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler."
Wiener added that the new law "protects open internet access, the free flow of information, and innovation."