California lawmakers reach deal on net neutrality bill

The legislation goes beyond rules the FCC rolled back earlier this year.

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Steven Musil
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Leading California lawmakers said Thursday they have reached an agreement on legislation that will create super-strong net neutrality protections after the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal its own regulations.

The deal comes after bitter debate among Democrats over how much muscle to put into the legislation, heralded as one of the nation's most aggressive efforts to revive Obama-era net neutrality regulations reversed by the Trump administration.

The bill's author, state Sen. Scott Wiener, said in June that he and fellow Democrat Assemblyman Miguel Santiago would begin negotiating to fix the bill to ensure the protections that were weeded out in the committee process would be added back into the legislation.

"For months, we have worked with a broad coalition to pass strong and enforceable net neutrality protections," Weiner, a Democrat from San Francisco, said in a statement Thursday. "As internet service providers and media companies like AT&T and Time Warner consolidate, net neutrality is more important than ever."

The move to weaken the bill was seen as a major blow to Democrats in Congress and in state houses across the country, which were looking to California to set a high standard as they push to reinstate strong net neutrality protections to replace the rules the Republican-led FCC voted to eliminate.

It also angered supporters of the movement, who have accused Santiago of being a shill for big broadband companies, like AT&T, which has contributed thousands of dollars to his campaigns.

"In the aftermath of Trump's destruction of the internet, we are advancing legislation with the strongest net neutrality and consumer protections in the nation," Santiago said in a statement. "California leads the fight for a free and open internet that doesn't discriminate or price users or content differently."

Wiener's bill got national attention because its protections go beyond the FCC's 2015 net neutrality "bright line" rules by including provisions like limits on discriminatory zero-rating, a business practice that allows broadband providers like AT&T to exempt their own services from their monthly wireless data caps, while services from competitors are counted against those limits. The result is a market controlled by internet service providers like AT&T, which can shut out the competition by creating an economic disadvantage for those competitors through its wireless service plans.

Wiener's bill also ensures broadband providers adhere to net neutrality principles at so-called interconnection points where traffic from companies like Netflix flowed onto broadband networks to be delivered to consumers.

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