Lawmaker Changes Cloud Calif. Net Neutrality Bill Outlook

A California net neutrality bill could be in jeopardy after lawmakers approved amendments friendly to internet service providers.

The bill originally would have banned ISPs from blocking, slowing or giving preference to legal content in their networks. It would have restored the Obama-era net neutrality rules that the GOP-controlled Federal Communications Commission rolled back in December.

But Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D), chairman of the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance, wrote amendments to strip out major provisions. Santiago’s committee approved the bill with his amendments at a June 20 hearing. The amendments are outlined in a committee staff analysis of the bill.

The amendments removed language banning ISPs from charging websites fees for data to reach their customers and other restrictions on slowing traffic for certain types of content. The Assembly committee also struck a ban on “zero rating,” which is the practice of ISPs not charging subscribers for their own content or services.

Sen. Scott Wiener (D), the bill’s author, told Bloomberg Law June 20 that internet service providers would welcome Santiago’s amendments. The amended bill “has loopholes in it that the ISPs can drive a truck through,” he said.

Wiener said he’s not abandoning his efforts. “If we are able to fix this and turn it back into a bill that protects net neutrality, we will do that,” Wiener said. “There is no way I’ll support enacting the bill into law as it is now.”

Net neutrality proponents are closely watching the bill moving in the home state of the largest tech giants. Santiago’s amendments cloud the bill’s outlook at a time when net neutrality proponents are lobbying more states to take action to counter the FCC’s rollback.

The bill, S.B. 822, already passed the Senate, and awaits a vote by the full California State Assembly. In California, bills move through each chamber in succession and can be amended in either house.

Santiago declined to comment. But he is “firm in recommending the 2015 Obama FCC rules on net neutrality as they were included in the Senate Bill 822 this morning,” according to a June 20 news release from his office.

Consumer and business groups, including Fight for the Future, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the California Association of Realtors, also objected to the amendments.

“Californians should rise up and demand that their Assembly members represent them,” Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement.

It’s unclear how the revised bill would fare in the full Democratic-controlled Assembly. The bill now heads to the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection.

That committee’s chairman, Assemblyman Ed Chau (D), is a net neutrality supporter who has sided with consumer groups.

Santiago said at the June 20 hearing that he wants to pass a net neutrality bill by the end of the session in August.

Representatives of major ISPs—AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc.— told the committee at the hearing they continue to oppose Wiener’s bill, even with the amendments.