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California state senator pledges to bring back net neutrality rules just as FCC votes to repeal them

Demonstrators rally in support of net neutrality outside a Verizon store in New York on Dec. 7. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)
Demonstrators rally in support of net neutrality outside a Verizon store in New York on Dec. 7. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Moments after the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to roll back net neutrality regulations, a state senator pledged to introduce legislation that would preserve open internet protections for consumers in California.

“Net neutrality is essential to our 21st century democracy, and we need to be sure that people can access websites and information freely and fairly,” Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said in a statement. “If the FCC is going to destroy net neutrality and create a system that favors certain websites just because they can pay more money, California must step in and ensure open internet access.”

The announcement of the proposal came shortly after the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality in an expected 3-2 party-line vote, with Republicans calling for an end to the utility-like oversight of internet service providers.

The Obama-era rules put in February 2015 barred broadband and wireless companies, such at AT&T Inc., Charter Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. from selling faster delivery of certain data, slowing speeds for certain video streams and other content, and discriminating against legal material online.

Before the vote, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argued loosening the regulations would allow the online economy to flourish. FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the the two Democrats on the commission, said the rollback would inhibit the openness that has made the U.S. internet the "envy of the world.”

Supporters of net neutrality are expected to file suit to try to halt the repeal plan.

Weiner’s attempt to institute net neutrality rules in California could have challenges. The FCC order states that “allowing state and local governments to adopt their own separate requirements,” which could impose a heavier burden on companies, could disrupt the balance between state and federal regulations.

The preemption of state and local net neutrality measures is something that could be challenged in court. Amid such legal battles state legislation could face heavy lobbying efforts from internet providers arguing against uneven regulations.

A bill by Assemblyman Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) was shelved last legislative session over similar disputes. It would have enshrined in state law other FCC regulations that were rolled back this year by President Trump and Congress. The Internet privacy rules limited what broadband providers can do with their customers' data.

The bill’s defeat capped a behind-the-scenes battle that pitted telecom companies against state internet service providers and brought other bills to a halt in the state Senate as negotiations unfolded over legislation that would have had national significance. 

UPDATES

7:57 a.m.: This post was updated with additional information about the potential legal case.

LA Times reporter Jim Puzzanghera contributed to this report.

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