Just after the New Year began, California lawmakers, sore that the Federal Communications Commission restored a stolen freedom and repealed the Obama-era net neutrality rule, introduced their own net neutrality bill. The California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act was gutted in June, but it has returned, as ugly as before.
Sen. Scott Wiener, who with Sen. Kevin de León introduced an amended version of Senate Bill 822 earlier this month, believes Sacramento must act because “net neutrality is essential to our 21st century democracy.” The Internet is actually far more essential to our 21st century economy, but we move on . . .
“If the FCC is going to destroy net neutrality,” San Francisco Democrat Wiener said just after the commission voted 3-2 in December to remove the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules. “California must step in and ensure open Internet access.” Wiener, it seems, was upset that Internet service providers were liberated by the FCC to “create a system that favors certain websites just because they can pay more money.”
The Senate president, of course, is playing to the same audience.
“We will not allow the profits and political interests of extremely wealthy corporations to outweigh the public interest in a free and egalitarian internet,” de León said in a joint news release celebrating the re-introduction of SB 822.
Always a coercive government solution. Always. And far too often, the government solution is forced on the public when there isn’t even a problem.
Going down a dangerous path, Wiener went further in saying that “we believe we have a strong argument that California under our police powers has the ability to protect consumers.” This should be cause for alarm. Where is the Internet outrage mob when menacing language is used to justify legislation that has nothing to do with law enforcement’s legitimate role?
Should it become law, SB 822 would bar Internet service providers from “engaging in paid prioritization,” which the Assembly’s bill summary says is “harmful to Internet openness.” These “fast lanes,” in which “online content providers,” according to gizmodo.com, “pay ISPs additional fees to have their content delivered at greater speeds to customers,” are considered by the bill’s supporters to be “unreasonable interference.”
In less “techy” terms, Sacramento wants the state government to rig Internet access pricing rather than allow a free and open market to do what it does so effectively — and neutrally — in every economic sector in which it is allowed to operate without government interference. If net neutrality supporters had bothered to look below the surface of their canned talking points, they would have seen the benefits of deregulation right before them. In the two months since the repeal took effect on June 11, “U.S. Internet speed has gone from 12th to 6th fastest in the world,” reports the Daily Caller. While U.S. Internet connections were already gaining speed, the sharpest increases in the last year came after the repeal was announced in mid-December 2017.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Roslyn Layton recently wondered “why does California want to adopt India’s failed internet regulation?” So, should everyone in this state. A few years back, using government’s “police power” to decide which pricing packages were harmful and discriminatory, India achieved “a complete ban on flexible pricing.” The result was a sharp decline in Internet adoption. In a world where Internet adoption is key to economic growth, legislation that stifles it is simply irresponsible.
Of course, the supposed beneficiaries of such rules too often end up being the victims. The elderly and poor “benefit tremendously from free data and differential pricing to access the Internet” in California, says Layton. Yet lawmakers want to withhold that option from them.
Legislators in the state with the greatest net number of tech workers as well as the most net tech jobs added should know better than to lash restraints on Internet access. They should also be mindful enough to realize that they are almost certainly exposing the state to time- and money-consuming litigation brought by the FCC. Yet they pursue restraints anyway. Why? Layton says they “do it for symbolic reasons, to win media attention, and to fundraise.”
Those are lousy motives to legislate. But in recent decades, that’s been the California Way.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.