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California Lawmakers Pass Nation's Toughest Net Neutrality Law

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California Lawmakers Pass Nation’s Toughest Net Neutrality Law

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The Capitol in Sacramento, where the Legislature on Friday passed guarantees of equal internet access that are viewed as even stronger than federal rules that were overturned in December.CreditCreditRich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
  • Aug. 31, 2018

WASHINGTON — California lawmakers on Friday passed a bill that would guarantee full and equal access to the internet — a principle known as net neutrality — in the biggest pushback yet to the federal government’s rollback of rules last year.

The California bill is viewed as even stronger and more consumer-friendly than the original measures carried out by the Obama administration and abolished in December by the Trump-era Federal Communications Commission. It is sure to set up a fight between broadband providers, which say strict rules would increase their costs, and consumer groups, which seek to ensure that all traffic on the internet is treated equally.

It is the latest effort in a growing fight against deregulation by the Trump administration. Federal agencies that have slashed regulations on telecommunications are being challenged in court by more than 20 states. Thirty states have introduced bills to ensure net neutrality.

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, California would become the fourth state to create a net neutrality law since the federal rollback, but it is considered the most significant. “This bill would set a tremendous precedent, with the power to shape the internet market not just in California but across the country for the betterment of consumers,” Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in a statement.

The F.C.C. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bill was passed by the State Senate on Friday and the State Assembly on Thursday, both by large margins.

“When Donald Trump’s F.C.C. decided to take a wrecking ball to net neutrality protections, we knew that California had to step in to ensure our residents have access to a free and open internet,” State Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat and one of the bill’s authors, said in a statement.

Lawmakers in California are seeking to bar internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast from blocking or slowing down the transmission of web traffic to the state’s broadband customers. The bill would also prohibit promotions of free streaming for apps, a practice that can stifle the businesses of other websites that don’t have the resources to offer such promotions.

The bill would ensure that consumers would not be charged extra for access to websites. Consumers would also be guaranteed that video streams from any site like Netflix, Vudu or Hulu would be delivered to a mobile device or an internet television at the same speeds and quality.

The bill would become California’s second major internet law passed in the last few months. In June, the state adopted an internet privacy law, the first in the nation. It gave California internet users the ability to know what information a company like Facebook or Google was collecting, and how it was being used and shared with third parties. The law also gave them the right to stop data collection.

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Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, Democrat of Los Angeles, left, and State Senator Scott Wiener, Democrat of San Francisco, after the net neutrality bill was approved by the California Senate on Friday in Sacramento.CreditRich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

California’s laws have enormous influence across the country. Its higher standards for auto emissions, for example, have been followed by a dozen other states, giving California major sway over the auto industry. And the state’s online privacy law has prompted tech companies to promote a weaker federal law that would nullify any state laws. New York State is considering a net neutrality law that mirrors the California bill.

The law would face fierce resistance from telecommunications companies. Through their trade group, USTelecom, broadband providers lobbied against the bill, warning that the rules on their management of traffic would stifle innovation and hinder business models.

Lawmakers said internet service providers had already indicated to them that they would sue to overturn a net neutrality law. “We will fight with everything we have to defend it,” Mr. Wiener said in a news conference.

Some legal experts say the F.C.C. did not have the authority to prohibit state net neutrality laws. In a separate court battle, a federal appeals court will decide if the commission’s rollback was legal.

Federal net neutrality rules have been challenged in lawsuits several times over the past decade and the issue could eventually wind up before the Supreme Court.

“The internet must be governed by a single, uniform and consistent national policy framework, not state-by-state piecemeal approaches,” Jonathan Spalter, president of USTelecom, said in a statement.

Governor Brown, a Democrat, has not indicated his view on the bill, but it was widely supported by Democrats in the Legislature and by federal Democratic lawmakers from California like Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader. Mr. Brown has until the end of September to decide on the bill, and he is expected to be intensely lobbied by telecommunications companies and consumer groups. In 2017, telecommunications providers fought against a state broadband privacy bill, which the Legislature never passed.

“Telecommunications companies have tremendous power and sway in California, so we know the fight is not over,” said Barbara van Schewick, a professor of law at Stanford University, who has been a strong proponent of net neutrality laws.

The California bill is the most significant victory for supporters of net neutrality rules since the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, scrapped federal regulations last year. Net neutrality advocates view broadband providers as important utilitylike services like the phone, saying that without the rules, big players with deep pockets have an unfair advantage.

Mr. Pai viewed the rules as burdensome. Telecom companies said they wanted to experiment with business models such as free streaming promotions over mobile phones with business partners. The broadband providers promised they would not block or intentionally slow down other websites in an anticompetitive manner.

But consumer groups and internet websites have been waging an effort in states to revive rules. Similar laws have been passed in Washington, Vermont and Oregon. Several governors have signed executive orders that require any broadband provider to abide by net neutrality rules if they provide service to a state office or agency.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: California Bill Sets Up a Fight On Web Access. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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