The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission criticized California’s recently-passed net neutrality law during a speech on Friday, calling it “radical,” “illegal,” and labeling California a “nanny state.”
“Last month, the California state legislature passed a radical, anti-consumer internet regulation bill that would impose restrictions even more burdensome than those adopted by the FCC in 2015,” Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman, said. “The Internet should be run by engineers, entrepreneurs, and technologists, not lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians.”
Pai was referencing senate bill 822, a law that was passed in the California legislature earlier this month and made its way to the governor’s desk last week. If signed, the law will enshrine the net neutrality protections that Pai’s FCC repealed last year, including prohibiting throttling and blocking sites.
Pai attacked the law while speaking at the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a right-wing think tank in Portland. Maine is one of the many states currently considering similar legislation to overturn the FCC’s decision.
The main critique seemed to be focused on the California bill’s language around zero rating: a practice where telecom companies exempt certain apps or services from counting towards a user’s data cap. On the surface, this sounds like a really great deal for consumers, as Pai argued on Friday.
“These plans have proven enormously popular in the marketplace, especially among lower-income Americans,” Pai said. “But nanny-state California legislators apparently want to ban their constituents from having this choice.”
But in practice, zero-rating is often used by telecom companies in an anti-competitive way, such as making their own in-house streaming service data exempt, for example. The California bill doesn’t ban zero-rating outright, but only if it violates the other net neutrality terms, as the FCC concluded some zero-rating practices do, in a 2016 review.
Pai also called the legislation illegal because it’s preempted by federal law. Remember: Pai argued last year that the FCC had to roll back net neutrality protections because he said it didn’t have the authority to regulate the industry, but evidently thinks it has the authority to prevent state governments from regulating the industry.
After hearing the chairman’s remarks, California state Senator Scott Wiener, who introduced the legislation, responded saying that Pai’s criticisms were “potshots” and wouldn’t dissuade California legislators.
“Unlike Pai’s FCC, California isn’t run by the big telecom and cable companies,” Wiener wrote in a statement. “SB 822 is supported by a broad coalition of consumer groups, groups advocating for low income people, small and mid-size technology companies, labor unions, and President Obama’s FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler. I’ll take that support over Ajit Pai any day of the week.”
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