Net Neutrality: California’s Revolt against US Telecoms Regulator

The state of California could restore the principle of net neutrality repealed in June by the Trump administration.

California doesn’t plan on accepting an end to net neutrality, and wants it known. On Aug. 31, the California Senate passed a bill intended to restore, even strengthen, the principle discarded in June at the initiative of the White House. Introduced in 2015 under the Obama administration, net neutrality has so far prevented telecommunication companies from restricting traffic on certain platforms with high bandwidth consumption – like YouTube and Netflix – or making their customers pay more.

On Friday, Sept. 14, tension ramped up between the state of California and the Federal Communications Commission after the telecommunications regulatory agency voted for the repeal of net neutrality. In a speech delivered to members of a think tank, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai described the California bill that’s planning to restore the principle as “illegal.” “Broadband is an interstate service. Internet traffic doesn’t recognize state lines. It follows that only the federal government can set regulatory policy in this area,” declared the Donald Trump-appointed Republican.

Threat of Legal Proceedings

Before taking effect, Senate Bill 822, as the bill is known, must still be signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, a step Ajit Pai did not expect, leaving the threat of legal proceedings looming.

The argument later continued on Twitter, where Scott Wiener, the Democratic senator behind the bill, didn’t waste any time reacting to the FCC chairman’s remarks. “SB 822 is necessary and legal because Chairman Pai abdicated his responsibility to ensure an open internet,” he criticized. “Unlike Pai’s FCC, California isn’t run by the big telecom and cable companies.”

Wiener didn’t miss the opportunity to recall a painful episode for the dismantlers of net neutrality. At the end of August, firefighters from northern California saw their internet connection slowed by the internet service provider Verizon Communications Inc., even while attempting to deal with the most far-reaching fires ever seen in the state. “Chairman Pai said nothing and did nothing. That silence says far more than his words today,” the senator said deploringly, although the link between the incident and the end of net neutrality is hard to make out.

Around 20 States Rally against FCC

For a long time, U.S. internet service providers (AT&T Inc., Verizon, T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp.) have called for an end to net neutrality. By permitting higher data charges for avid consumers, they say the step would allow them to invest in infrastructure and improve the quality of their networks. On the other hand, those who defend this founding principle of the internet say it guarantees equal access to traffic, as much for personal internet use as for business.

California doesn’t stand alone in its revolt against the FCC. The states of Washington, Vermont and Oregon have previously also legislated to protect net neutrality. On Aug. 20, attorneys general in 23 U.S. states filed complaints against the FCC in the U.S. Court of Appeals. But California has massive support at its disposal. Home to Silicon Valley, a number of internet giants like Facebook Inc., Google, Twitter Inc., Netflix and Inc. have stepped up to the plate and spoken out against the undermining of an open internet from which they have profited.

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