California's Net Neutrality Law Hurts Veterans and All Consumers | Citizens Against Government Waste

California's Net Neutrality Law Hurts Veterans and All Consumers

The WasteWatcher

Leave it to California to take away something for free in the name of protecting consumers.  After the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order on December 14, 2017, reversing the Open Internet Order that imposed “net neutrality” common telephone carrier regulations based on the 1934 Telecommunications Act on internet service providers, California decided to take matters into its own hands and passedits own net neutrality law.  The law was on hold pending for a court decision on whether it could move forward in a lawsuit against the RIF Order, but on February 24, 2021 the court decided the California law could move forward, and on March 25, 2021 it became enforceable.

Provisions of the law include prohibitions against blocking content or services, both of which were included in the FCC Open Internet Guidelines; paid prioritization; and “zero rating” practices.  It is this “zero rating” or free data prohibition that is now becoming the sticking point for providing free data to cover telehealth services to veterans using the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) telehealth app.  While the law ostensibly applies only to California, many are interpreting it as applying across the country.

VA officials are rightly raising concerns about the unintended consequences of the California law.  Banning free data for services is no longer a matter of consumers getting free access to Netflix, HBO plus, or other apps and services offered by an internet service provider – this is about the very lives and health of the nation’s veterans who served willingly and given so much to keep the United States free and secure.  Carriers like AT&T have also removed free data services for all customers, since the company believes keeping them available in states other than California would violate the new law. 

Net neutrality proponents claim these restrictions are necessary to protect the consumer welfare standard and prevent so-called net neutrality violations.  But one state should not decide it knows what is best for the American people without any regard to the harms that will be caused by these laws.  And California lawmakers have clearly decided that a company offering free benefits to their customers – the consumer – violates the consumer welfare standard. 

California lawmakers must reconsider this absurd law and pull back these onerous restrictions so that internet service providers can again start offering these benefits to their subscribers, including the nation’s veterans.

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