What’s New with California’s Net Neutrality Regulations?

On Sunday, September 24, Governor of California Jerry Brown signed a comprehensive net neutrality bill, marking the return of Obama era regulations on internet providers, however the Trump administration’s Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the bill for violating Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. As of 2015, the FCC had created regulations that ensured the internet remained net neutral, but those were almost completely repealed recently by the Trump administration’s FCC.

While the senate did pass a resolution too reverse this, it is uncertain whether it will be approved by the House of Representatives and the President. After successfully passing the bill through the legislature, Senator Scott Wiener, of District 11, says about the FCC repeal “when Donald Trump’s FCC decided to take a wrecking ball to net neutrality protections, we knew that California had to step in to ensure our residents have access to a free and open internet.”

However, the Trump administration’s Justice Department will soon take California to court over these new laws. The grounds for the suit is that under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, Congress has the exclusive right “To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;” and since the internet is a form of interstate commerce, California doesn’t have the right to regulate net neutrality.

Ajit Pai, current chairman of the FCC, added “Not only is California’s Internet regulation law illegal, it also hurts consumers. The law prohibits many free-data plans, which allow consumers to stream video, music, and the like exempt from any data limits.” It is true that California’s new laws would ban a service termed “zero rating” which is defined in the bill as “exempting some Internet traffic from a customer’s data usage allowance.”

Here to share her thoughts and opinions on this is Gretchen Connors, DVCA’s senior Political Studies/Economics teacher, who kindly agreed to interview on very short notice.

Ms. Connors first brings up that there isn’t a simple answer to the question of net neutrality, saying “For me, it’s a double edged sword of like.” She points out that competition leads to more innovations from corporations. And since they are viewed in Federal law as people, it’s really a question of “whose rights are you willing to infringe?”

On the topic of the zero rating ban, Ms. Connors hypothesized about the future effects of zero rating, saying “if I’m a new startup trying to break into this industry, I’m not going to be able to afford this zero rating … so you’re going to see monopolies and so down the road. … How can you compete against Netflix when you can’t even get the deal and get the zero rating?” Netflix is used here a possible candidate for using the zero rating system to become a monopoly.

Finally, when the DOJ’s claims that only the Federal government should be allowed to regulate the internet, Ms. Connors pointed out that buying products on the internet is technically an interstate transaction, and yet state taxes apply, and wondered “is this a stepping stone to attacking that issue too? … I mean that’s in theory kind of the same thing.” This could lead to the Federal Government taking more direct control of state tax laws.

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