Berkeley and California legislation aim to reinstitute net neutrality

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Kavya Narendra-Babu/Staff

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State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill on Jan. 3 in the California Senate that could revive net neutrality for the state.

The bill was approved by the state Senate and — if passed by the state Assembly and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown — will go into effect Jan. 1, 2019, according to Wiener. The bill would include the same regulations that the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, had before the end of net neutrality.

The city of Berkeley and the state of California are working to reinstate net neutrality rules after the FCC’s decision last year allowed internet service providers to prioritize favorable content and treat internet traffic unequally.

“The city authored a resolution supporting net neutrality because we believe that the web should be an equal playing field for all, regardless of whether you are rich or poor and regardless of which sites internet providers deem controversial,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in a statement. “Our freedom and democracy relies on unrestricted access to information.”

A City Council report from Feb. 13 stated that the city’s resolution stems from the belief that the limited number of internet providers will leave millions of people vulnerable to restrictions and prioritization of content will prevent new businesses from entering the online market.

The mayors of New York, Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas started the Cities Open Internet Pledge, which asks mayors across the U.S. to support net neutrality regulations in their municipalities and require internet providers to follow a strict set of rules, according to a May 1 City Council report. As of May 1, more than 80 cities had signed the pledge.

In another movement of support for internet regulations, the mayor’s office received about 500 emails in support of the Cities Open Internet Pledge, according to mayor’s office spokesperson Karina Ioffee.

In the February City Council report, Berkeley City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Cheryl Davila and Sophie Hahn advocated for formally disapproving of the FCC’s overturning of net neutrality. “America has long prided itself as a nation that holds freedom of choice, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in the highest regard,” the report said. “However, FCC’s controversial action will severely undermine these principles by granting (internet service providers) even greater control over information flow, cell phone and internet market, pricing, and competition.”

At the state level, Wiener introduced a bill in response to the FCC’s net neutrality decision.

Weiner said that if the FCC does not want to protect open access to the internet, then the state government needs to protect it for California.

“We want to save the Obama-era net neutrality regulations,” Wiener said.

According to Wiener, the difference between California’s bill and Congress’s bill is that the federal bill is a “very weak and limited version of net neutrality,” while the state bill “solves a problem and it is broader than what the Republicans introduced.”

California is among the first U.S. states to introduce legislation on net neutrality. Wiener said he has also been in touch with legislators in New York, whose new bill is modeled after California’s.

Wiener added that while city regulation is beneficial, it is easier to enact new regulations on the state level instead.

“The heart of our democracy and economy is to protect open access and prevent internet providers from controlling what we see,” Wiener said.

Contact Margaret Black at [email protected].

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