The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which has pushed back against federal changes to immigration law and health insurance, voted this week to take a stand in favor of net neutrality and urge state and federal officials to do the same.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl recommended sending a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature asking them to pass legislation that would protect net neutrality. A separate letter will be sent to Senate and House leaders and President Donald Trump demanding a resolution to overturn a Federal Communications Commission vote to repeal Obama-era rules establishing net neutrality.
“A free and open internet is a human right, not a privilege to be granted by large corporations to those consumers who can afford to pay,” Solis said. “The internet has always been a level playing field where service providers are prohibited from playing favorites. If the federal government fails to do its job in safeguarding a free and open internet, California must take a stand for consumer protection.”
Net neutrality demands that internet service providers treat all data and users equally rather than offering different services, speeds and rates based on user, content, platform or application.
A 3-2 vote by the FCC on Dec. 14 was billed by the agency as a move “to restore the longstanding, bipartisan, light-touch regulatory framework that has fostered rapid internet growth, openness and freedom for nearly 20 years.”
It reversed regulations established in 2015 that the FCC said inhibited investment and innovation. The repeal is set to take effect in 2018 and will allow providers to slow or speed up internet access based on tiered fees or preferred content.
Proponents of net neutrality say that without it, small tech start-ups will have trouble gaining traction in the market, while unfair advantages granted to big companies will end up hurting consumers. For end users, the internet will become another arena where income determines the quality of the experience, net neutrality advocates say.
“Net neutrality guarantees a level playing field for internet content producers,” Kuehl said. “Imagine a day when you won’t be able to access your favorite website or web-based program because your internet provider has decided not to carry it or attached an astronomical price tag to access it. Thanks to the FCC’s misguided decision last week, that day may be near.”
The vast majority of consumers favor net neutrality: 83 percent according to a recent poll by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.
Executives at Amazon, Facebook and Netflix have issued statements expressing disappointment with the FCC decision, while internet service providers have welcomed industry deregulation.
While lawmakers in some states have already taken steps to try and roll back the FCC decision, their legal authority to do so may be limited. One workaround currently proposed in New York and Washington state is to use state purchasing power to demand that providers seeking state contracts comply with the principle of net neutrality.
The board’s vote also includes drafting a letter to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, urging him to join in filing a legal claim challenging the repeal of net neutrality rules. Becerra has been vocal in his opposition to the FCC decision, issuing a statement immediately after the decision that read in part, “A handful of powerful companies should not dictate the sources for the information we seek or the speed at which our websites load.”