After months of back and forth, amending bills, combining them, and pulling them apart, California’s legislature has finally passed a law that will, at least for some 40 million Americans, restore the net neutrality protections repealed by the Trump administration this year.
After clearing the state Assembly on Thursday, S.B. 822 was passed by the Senate in a 27-to-12 vote. The bill, authored by State Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco, is now on its way to Governor Scott Brown’s desk, where it will await his signature or veto.
“We did it,” Wiener said. “We passed the strongest net neutrality standards in the nation. The internet is at the heart of 21st century life—our economy, our public safety and health systems, and our democracy. So when Donald Trump’s FCC decided to take a wrecking ball to net neutrality protections, we knew that California had to step in to ensure our residents have access to a free and open internet.”
“I am incredibly proud of the work we have done to protect Californians everywhere, who deserve equal and open to access to this modern day necessity,” he added.
Governor Brown has not signaled whether he intends to sign the bill, but supporters in the Senate remain optimistic, according to a Democratic aide, who noted that both U.S. Senators from California, Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, had called for its passage. The bill is supported as well by Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
“This bill is not just important for consumer protection, it is fundamental to free speech so that people can receive and send the information they choose and connect with others without interference,” said Kevin Baker, legislative director for the ACLU of California.
Despite being one of the nation’s most progressive states, the fight to reestablish net neutrality in California was not an easy one. The major broadband providers that fiercely oppose S.B. 822 hold enormous power in the Golden State. Nevertheless, the sway companies such as AT&T and Verizon have over lawmakers, in the end, could not compete with the outpouring of support from California residents, who are equally fired up about this issue.
Inundated by calls and emails demanding protection from internet service providers that may seek to block or throttle online traffic at will, even legislators flush with telecom contributions relented. And even though their support was not necessary, six Republicans on Thursday voted “aye.”
“When California acts, the world pays attention,” wrote Stanford Law School professor Barbara van Schewick following the vote, adding: “This bill ensures that Californians, not the ISPs they pay to get online, get to choose what websites and apps they use.”
The result of Friday’s vote is a massive blow to an industry that has spent years combating efforts to curb its sovereignty over the delivery of online services. Democrats and Republicans alike watched the bill’s trajectory from afar with great interest, plenty unconvinced that net neutrality would be an issue remembered come November. Had a coastal bastion of progressivism like California been unable to pass a comprehensive bill that mirrors the Obama-era rules undone in December, many thought it could not be done anywhere else.
“We hope that other states can look to this legislation as a model for net neutrality standards,” Wiener told Gizmodo.
They undoubtedly will.
Update, 8:30pm: Added final vote count.
Correction: An early version of this story mistakenly identified California’s governor as Scott Brown. His name is Jerry. We regret the error.