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Net neutrality repeal a political battleground

Ethernet cables tangled over a digital device. (Photo illustration: Ivan Marc)

The latest skirmish in California-vs.-the-Trump-Administration is developing around the repeal of “net neutrality,” in which purveyors of internet access treat all data equally.

The Federal Communications Commission, chaired by former Verizon executive Ajit Pai, repealed net neutrality in a Dec. 14 ruling on a party-line 3-2 vote, with the Republican commissioners in the majority.

Critics contend the repeal ultimately will allow ISPs to set up two-tier data delivery systems, forcing content providers such as Netflix to pay more for the data to stream their movies.

The language in the ruling called the previously existing net neutrality rule “heavy handed” and argued that it stifled innovation and investment by Internet Service Providers, or ISPs.

But 50 U.S.senators have since endorsed a reversal of the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality.  The total includes all 49 Democrats and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine. The 50-vote total leaves supporters of net neutrality just one vote shy of the 51 needed for a Senate vote disapproving of the FCC’s action.

Among other things, critics contend the repeal ultimately will allow ISPs to set up two-tier data delivery systems, forcing content providers such as Netflix to pay more for the data to stream their movies — cost increases that could get passed on to consumers.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines net neutrality as: “the idea, principle, or requirement that Internet Service Providers should or must treat all Internet data as the same regardless of its kind, source, or destination.”

And that’s the way it should be, argues state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco. He has introduced a bill aimed at nullifying the repeal in California. So has state Senate Leader Kevin de León, also a Democrat.

“Without strong net neutrality rules, there’s nothing to stop the companies that already monopolize the internet from blocking websites or information altogether.” — Kevin de León

Wiener’s officer says his bill will “effectuate net neutrality in California utilizing the state’s regulatory powers.” That means the state would use net neutrality as a condition in state contracts, cable franchise agreements and the agreements that let companies place wireless broadband equipment on utility poles.

“California must step in to protect a free and open internet,” Wiener said in a prepared statement.

In a telephone interview with Capitol Weekly, Wiener professed not to be worried about the competing bill from de Leon.

“The more the merrier,” Wiener said. “It’s great having the leadership backing the effort. We’ve talked and I’m confident that we’ll collaborate.”

“In today’s digital world, the internet is critical to free expression, free speech, and democracy,” de León said in a statement. “Without strong net neutrality rules, there’s nothing to stop the companies that already monopolize the internet from blocking websites or information altogether, so if the Trump Administration won’t protect consumers – the State of California will.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerrra joined 20 other states and the District of Columbia in a federal court lawsuit aimed at reversing the FCC ruling.

No one on either side doubts that the politically charged issue will wind up in court, with a principal argument revolving around whether states have the power to block the FCC ruling within state boundaries.

“We don’t believe the FCC has the power to prevent states from acting against the ruling,” Wiener said.

On Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerrra joined 20 other states and the District of Columbia in a federal court lawsuit aimed at reversing the FCC ruling. It is the latest in a series of high-profile suits filed by California challenging Trump administration policies.

In a prepared statement, Becerra said: “Internet access is a utility – just like water and electricity. And every consumer has a right to access online content without interference or manipulation by their internet service provider. However, in repealing the net neutrality rules, the FCC ignored consumers’ strong support for a free and open internet.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says he’s suing to “stop the FCC’s illegal rollback of net neutrality.” Other states interested in legal action include Oregon, Illinois, Iowa, and Massachusetts, among others.

The repeal will “restore the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework that has fostered rapid Internet growth, openness, and freedom for nearly 20 years.” — Ajit Pai

The California lawsuit is finding a warm welcome from the Big California-based content providers, who don’t like the repeal at all.

“Today’s decision from the Federal Communications Commission to end net neutrality is disappointing and harmful,” said Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, in a prepared statement.

“An open internet is critical for new ideas and economic opportunity — and internet providers shouldn’t be able to decide what people can see online or charge more for certain websites. We’re ready to work with members of Congress and others to help make the internet free and open for everyone.”

Said Netflix, in a company tweet: “We’re disappointed in the decision to gut #NetNeutrality protections that ushered in an unprecedented era of innovation, creativity & civic engagement. This is the beginning of a longer legal battle. Netflix stands w/ innovators, large & small, to oppose this misguided FCC order.”

Opposition to the FCC repeal is also coming from the Internet Association — whose member companies include Google, Facebook and Netflix. The group said last week it is prepared to join a legal battle against the repeal.

Pai argues that abolishing net neutrality would lead to more investment by ISPs, allowing them to develop new services. This could translate into more competition, potentially benefiting consumers and increasing the number of Americans with access to the Internet, Pai argues.

Repeal will “restore the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework that has fostered rapid Internet growth, openness, and freedom for nearly 20 years,” the FCC declared.


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