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California State Assembly Passes Nation’s Toughest Net Neutrality Law

A net neutrality bill that would prohibit internet providers from a host of discriminatory practices cleared the California Assembly on Thursday, setting up a potential showdown with the Trump administration over the rules of the road for the internet.

The legislation, which passed in a 59-18 vote, will now go to the Senate, where a vote is expected next week. It would then go to Governor Jerry Brown.

California is also the largest state to pass net neutrality legislation in response to the Republican-led FCC’s move late last year to dismantle many of the existing rules.

Democrats have seized on that action and have sought to reverse the FCC’s decision in Congress, but states have also responded with their own measures. That will likely key them up for a legal showdown, as the FCC’s repeal of the rules also includes a provision pre-empting state efforts to impose their own rules.

The bill prohibits internet providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or from selling speedier access to consumers. But the legislation also goes further than the FCC’s old rules, as it prohibits internet providers from charging access fees to websites to connect to their customers, and it bans certain types of “zero rating” offerings. The latter are practices in which companies like AT&T and Verizon offer plans that do not count affiliated content against data caps.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat who authored the bill, noted that all 55 Democrats and six Republicans voted for the legislation.

Republicans said the legislation was the type of heavy-handed regulation that will stifle investment. The California Cable and Telecommunications Association said that the legislation “includes 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 bill appeared to gain some momentum after reports that Verizon slowed the speed of the Santa Clara County Fire Department’s data, posing a communications hindrance as it tried to fight wildfires. Verizon characterized the incident as a customer service mistake and that it had “nothing to do with net neutrality.”

Nevertheless, Santa Clara County’s fire chief, Anthony Bowden, made a declaration that was included in an ongoing lawsuit brought by Mozilla Corp. and others challenging the FCC’s repeal of the rules. “In light of our experience, 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 ultimately paying significantly more for mission critical service — even if that means risking harm to public safety during negotiations,” he wrote.

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