FCC Killed Net Neutrality, Blue States Can Save It

The Trump administration cleared the way for internet providers to throttle speeds of websites they don’t like. That’s not the end of the fight, though.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Federal authorities won’t protect net neutrality, so states want to protect the regulations on their own.

On Wednesday, a California lawmaker introduced a bill that would reinstate net neutrality protections on a local level. The bill comes weeks after the Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality rules, which required internet providers to treat all data equally, blocking those ISPs from charging more for specific internet activities, or limiting access to certain websites. The FCC’s 3-2 vote to repeal the protections was a major win for telecoms companies, and a blow to consumers and free speech advocates.

But California’s new bill, along with similar proposals in other states, could help keep net neutrality protections in place, if only in piecemeal form.

Without federal backing, states have to look to local law to pass their net neutrality provisions. California’s new bill attempts to use the state’s Public Utilities Commission to dictate how ISPs can do business in the state.

The California Public Utilities Commission owns the utility poles on which many telecoms companies attach broadband devices. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, would block telecoms companies’ “state-granted right to attach small cell or other broadband wireless communications devices to utility poles” unless they agreed to uphold their old net neutrality commitments.

The bill, backed by 11 Democrats, would also block government contracts with ISPs that did not practice net neutrality.

“Net neutrality is essential to our 21st-century democracy,” Wiener said in a press release. “We won’t let the Trump-led FCC dismantle our right to a free and open Internet, and we won’t let them create a system where Internet providers can favor websites and services based on who pays more money.” Legislators in New York and Washington state have also introduced bills that would protect net neutrality within their borders.

Immediately after the FCC’s December vote, Washington lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan-backed bill that would ban ISPs from creating internet “fast lanes”: unequal internet speeds that favor certain websites while throttling other content. The bill also requires ISPs to publicly disclose their internet speeds and prices.

New York lawmakers rolled out their own net neutrality bill days later. The bill would also prohibit ISPs from creating internet “fast lanes” or slowing certain content, and would require telecoms companies to agree to net neutrality protections before they were awarded government contracts.

All three bills follow FCC warnings against states passing their own net neutrality laws. Because ISPs typically cross state lines, most fall under federal control, making them difficult for states to legislate.

“I hope that most states and localities will not waste time and resources attempting to push the boundaries, but I realize that some will do so regardless,” FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in advance of his net neutrality-repealing vote in December, promising to “help quash any conflicts that arise.”

In a Wednesday tweet ahead of introducing his net neutrality bill, Wiener fired back at the FCC threats.

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“We will protect a free and open Internet in our state,” Wiener tweeted. “We won’t let the FCC undermine our democracy.”