California regulators scrapped a plan to weigh in on net neutrality

Golden Gate Bridge

“A real double-dose of unsurprising and disappointing.”

In advance of a meeting on Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) pulled an item off of its agenda that could have led to regulators in the nation’s most populous state taking a landmark stand on net neutrality.

The CPUC was initially scheduled to debate the issue, but that item was yanked from the agenda at the last minute. This is the second time the CPUC has put a vote on net neutrality on its agenda only to scrap it before the meeting commenced.

State-level regulators in California don’t have the ability to reinstate rules, struck down by a federal judge earlier this year, that prohibit cable companies from charging fees to online content providers like Netflix and YouTube in exchange for “fast lane” access to consumers. Yet while only the federal telecom regulators at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have the ability to bring back net neutrality, the CPUC recently gave itself the authority to issue an opinion on the subject to the FCC.

The FCC proposed a set of rules that would allow for fast lanes and allowed members of the pubic make comments on that proposal. The comment period, which has now official closed, generated more public input than any other issue in the agency’s history. Though the public comment period is over, the FCC is still accepting comments from sources like the CPUC.

“If the CPUC said something on the issue of the net neutrality, it could have created a domino effect and set the stage for other state regulators to issue their own opinions,” explained April Glaser, a staff activist with pro-net neutrality Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Open Internet groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation support reclassifying broadband cable providers as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Under Title II, all Internet service providers would be required to abide by net neutrality.

Multichannel News reports that a draft memo of the CPUC’s potential comment to the FCC would have strongly supported Title II reclassification:

“The commercially reasonable standard is inconsistent with an open Internet because it would allow ISPs to discriminate under an undefined and likely unenforceable standard,” said the memo. “Accordingly, the CPUC would oppose FCC adoption of the proposed “commercially reasonable” standard, and argue instead adoption of the “no unreasonable discrimination” standard rooted in Title II.”

A few other state-level utility regulators have issued their own opinions on net neutrality, most of them favoring Title II.

Last month, the CPUC passed a rule allowing it to officially weigh in on the issue, but one of the commissioners rescinded her “yes” vote almost immediately thereafter. In the meeting yesterday, it was unclear if the discussion was going to be about whether or not the CPUC had the ability to issue a comment or about what that comment might be.

CPUC representatives did not respond to a request for comment as to why the item was taken off the agenda.

According to the Oakland-based pro-net neutrality group Media Alliance, the CPUC has already recieved 3,000 emails urging the commission to take a stand against online fast lanes. The group said in a blog post that it planned to deliver an 11,000-signature petition to the CPUC’s San Francisco headquarters immediatey before the meeting.

Media Alliance Executive Director Tracy Rosenberg, along with a handful of other activists, spoke during the pubic comment portion of Thursday’s meeting, calling for clarification as to why the net neutrality issue was scrapped. Rosenberg understandably only stayed for the first two hours of the marathon six-hour meeting, but told the Daily Dot none of the comissioners in any way addressed net neutrality or the reason for the agenda change.

“I imagine the CPUC is being lobbied very heavily by the telecom industry to say that it would support a plan that allows discrimination,” said Glaser. “So the decision to take net neutrality off the agenda is a real double-dose of unsurprising and disappointing.”

Photo by Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Aaron Sankin

Aaron Sankin

Aaron Sankin is a former Senior Staff Writer at the Daily Dot who covered the intersection of politics, technology, online privacy, Twitter bots, and the role of dank memes in popular culture. He lives in Seattle, Washington. He joined the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2016.