THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA has passed a bill that effectively neutralises President Trump’s repeal of net neutrality rules.
The bill will make it illegal for internet service providers or mobile operators in California to block or throttle internet traffic, or from selling speedier access to particular websites.
It includes a ban on the practice of selling tariffs with access to particular websites that don’t count towards data caps. So-called ‘zero rating’ is most common among mobile providers.
Indeed, the law will go further than the old Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules that Trump’s FCC appointee Ajit Pai consigned to the dustbin.
According to Variety, the bill gained some momentum following reports that Verizon, the personal email reading owner of AOL and Yahoo Mail, had throttled mobile accounts belonging to the Santa Clara County Fire Departments while they were busy fighting wildfires.
While Verizon claimed it was all just a big customer service mistake, Santa Clara County’s fire chief Anthony Bowden suggested that the data throttling was a deliberate exercise intended to wring more money out of them for higher-cost mobile contracts.
“County Fire believes it is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher cost plans,” said Bowden.
California is also home to many highly profitable internet companies, like Google and Facebook, as well as film and TV studios. None of them want to pay extra for the privilege of reaching their customers online, who have already paid (through the nose) for their internet access.
All 55 Democrats in the California Assembly voted in favour of the bill, and they were joined by six Republicans. However, the official line from the Republican Party leadership in the state was that this was a very bad thing.
It burbled that the bill included “extreme provisions rejected by the Obama FCC in 2015 and could threaten the innovation and investment that are the backbone of California’s economy”.
The US internet access market is further complicated (or, perhaps, simplified) by a lack of competition that means that many customers only have one or two viable options for both high-speed internet access and mobile connectivity – at prices that are already eye-wateringly high.
Companies that dominate internet access in the US have been vertically integrating with content providers for a number of years. AT&T is in the process of acquiring HBO-owner Time Warner for $85.4bn, while Comcast owns NBCUniversal and has a stake in Hulu. Such M&A activity makes BT’s expensive dabbling in BT Sport look piffling in contrast.
However, the California net neutrality bill will enable non-discriminatory zero-rating tariffs, subject to certain technical requirements.
Writing in Forbes, Dr Nelson Granados, director of the Institute for Entertainment, Media and Culture at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, suggested that the passage of the bill should give national lawmakers a good, solid kick up the jacksie.
“The California bill is far reaching because it is an alert to the nation’s lawmakers to get their act together and standardise nationwide net neutrality rules,” he said. “I am hoping this bill will trigger action from Congress to develop nationwide net neutrality rules, for the sake of an evenly free and neutral internet.”
A man can dream. μ
Source : Inquirer