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Town Hall with Rep. Sam Farr

SamFarrNewIn anticipation of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s forthcoming plan on how to proceed on net neutrality, where do you stand on the matter? What would you like to see happen?

I am a strong supporter of a free and open Internet. That is why I am a co-sponsor of the Open Internet Preservation Act. Broadband Internet access has transformed our society. It created new avenues for pursuing higher education, allowed startup businesses to thrive, and created increased access to news and a freer exchange of ideas. This has all been possible because of net neutrality or the idea that Internet service providers treat each website fairly and maintain an even playing field for everyone.

Last month’s court ruling in Verizon v. FCC threatens to undo all of that progress. The court’s decision opens the doors for Internet service providers like Verizon or Comcast to censor or slowdown any website they choose. A provider could block you from accessing your favorite blog or news site. They could slow videos on YouTube or degrade your stream of the new season of House of Cards on Netflix.

 The fear is that providers will use this opportunity to create a pay-for-play model. Websites that want to avoid being blocked will have to pay a fee to the providers. With little or no competition for service providers in many areas, websites will have no choice but to accept that additional cost. The fees will most likely be passed on to consumers whose Internet access bills are already too high.

The key to the Internet’s success has always been increased innovation. Without net neutrality, not only could the cost of accessing your favorite websites rise but it will also become harder for the next Netflix or Hulu to compete with these already established companies. Stifling competition should never be our goal.

In light of the court’s ruling, we should be looking at ways to restore the status quo. I am hopeful that the FCC will see the need for net neutrality and will adopt replacement rules to prevent discriminatory behavior by Internet service providers.

What is California’s current law regarding the sale, trade or possession of shark fins, and what was your position during the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) recent decisions regarding it? 

California has one of the toughest laws on the books to stop the cruel practice of shark finning—the removal of a shark’s fin then leaving the live shark adrift in the water. Thanks to the leadership of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the state passed a law that would not only prevent the practice in our state waters but would also ban the sale, trade or possession of shark fins in the state. That extra step would help extend the ban beyond our waters. It was a landmark bill that was necessary to help protect many endangered species of sharks.

Recently, NOAA proposed national regulations to curtail the practice in all state and federal waters. Their intentions were good but the proposed rule had the unintended consequence of weakening the California law. The proposed rule was supposed to create a floor for minimum standards but unfortunately it would have created a ceiling.

I worked with many of my colleagues in Congress to get NOAA to reinterpret their rule. After some discussion, NOAA agreed to not interfere with the implementation of California’s ban on the shark fin trade. NOAA wants to be a partner with California in our push to end this inhumane practice. The agency felt that federal law should not preempt stronger state environmental laws.

This was obviously great news for California. It was also welcomed news for other states that want to enact similar laws. Florida is already looking at the California model while drafting legislation. NOAA’s decision in our case opens the door for everyone to pass laws just as strong as California’s to end this horrible trade.

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