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FCC's Ajit Pai: Here's why nanny-state California's net-neutrality bill is illegal

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai takes a swipe at California's net-neutrality protections.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai says California's plan to create its own net-neutrality rules is "illegal" and "anti-consumer".

California last month voted to proceed with Senate Bill 822, providing stronger state-wide protections for net neutrality than the Obama-era federal protections that the FCC killed off last year because some Republicans thought they stifled carrier investments in networks.

Pai said the California bill, which is yet to be signed, was "a radical, anti-consumer internet regulation" that would prevent Californian consumers from buying free-data plans.

A hotly contested restriction in the bill prevents ISPs from using 'zero-rating', where a carrier provides select content without it impacting a data plan, which in turn would give the carrier an edge over rival services whose content does use up a plan.

ISPs would be prevented from requiring websites to pay to avoid their data counting against a user's data cap.

The California law also prohibits ISPs from blocking websites, speeding up or slowing down websites or whole classes of applications, such as video.

SEE: IT pro's guide to GDPR compliance (free PDF)

But in Pai's view, California's law would restrict consumer choice.

"These plans allow consumers to stream video, music, and the like exempt from any data limits. They have proven enormously popular in the marketplace, especially among lower-income Americans," said Pai.

"But nanny-state California legislators apparently want to ban their constituents from having this choice. They have met the enemy, and it is free data."

California's bill also "poses a risk to the rest of the country" since internet traffic doesn't recognize state lines, which he argued was why only the federal government can set regulations in this area.

For this reason, Pai contended that California's bill is illegal, pointing to a recent US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruling against Minnesota's attempt to regulate VoIP service.

He argues that this ruling supports his claim that state regulation of information services is preempted by federal law.

Senator Scott Wiener from San Francisco and author of SB 822, hit back at Pai's criticisms, saying the bill was "necessary and legal because chairman Pai abdicated his responsibility to ensure an open internet".

"Since the FCC says it no longer has any authority to protect an open internet, it's also the case that the FCC lacks the legal power to preempt states from protecting their residents and economy," said Wiener.

"SB 822 is supported by a broad coalition of consumer groups, groups advocating for low-income people, small and mid-sized technology companies, labor unions, and President Obama's FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler. I'll take support over Ajit Pai any day of the week," he added.

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