California restores tough net neutrality bill after legislative compromise

California lawmakers carved out a compromise that will restore provisions against zero rating and paid prioritization to a net neutrality bill that has already cleared the state senate. (Makaristos/Wikipedia)

A California state assemblyman has apparently backed down in his quest to water down in committee a strict state net neutrality bill that had passed the state senate.

California State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) authored a bill that Comcast and AT&T said was even stricter than the 2015 Open Internet order recently overridden by the Republican-led FCC. 

However, late last month, Senate Bill 822 was watered down in the State Assembly’s Communications Committee, which is chaired by Democratic State Assemblyman Miguel Santiago. A recipient of thousands of dollars in campaign money from AT&T, Santiago subsequently faced huge political pressure in the blue state, with one consumer group labeling him “California’s Chairman Pai” referring to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who led his agency’s federal net neutrality rollback.

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This week, however, Weiner and Santiago managed to carve out what they’re calling a compromise. Weiner’s mandate that the bill include provisions for stopping zero rating and paid prioritization were returned to the bill. Santiago, meanwhile, claimed to be satisfied with a restructuring of the bill that he believes will help it better stand up in court. He said his concern all along has been what will happen to SB 822 once it is legally challenged by Republican opposition. 

The bill now looks to be on track to pass the State Assembly and reach the desk of Governor Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it into law. This is a blow to Comcast and AT&T, which have led lobbying efforts to stop SB 822. 

"For months, we have worked with a broad coalition to pass strong and enforceable net neutrality protections," Weiner 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.”

"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 added in his own statement. "California leads the fight for a free and open internet that doesn't discriminate or price users or content differently.”