It’s been a roller-coaster ride for one California lawmaker over the past month as he’s tried to push a comprehensive net neutrality bill through the state’s legislature.
In mid-June, it seemed as if Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill, S.B. 822, would get watered down once it combined with another bill introduced by a colleague. Days later, the two men came together to ensure that a single solid bill would be offered up for a vote in the State Assembly. Then another few days passed, and the head of an influential committee seemed desperate to sabotage the whole thing.
For a moment, it appeared as if California was destined to pass a law that was “net neutrality” in name only.
But that’s all changed thanks in no small part to the public advocacy drummed up by a bevy of digital rights groups, including Color of Change, Free Press, Demand Progress, and the ever-feisty Fight for the Future. That and weeks of negotiations that many on the outside doubted would ever bear any fruit.
“We’re announcing amendments to S.B. 822 that will insert strong net neutrality protections so the bill will once again be the strongest and most comprehensive net neutrality bill in the country,” Sen. Wiener told Gizmodo over the phone Thursday, driving, as he does every week, from his Bay Area district to Sacramento, the state’s capital.
A deal had been struck, he said, with Assemblymen Miguel Santiago of Los Angeles to re-incorporate provisions stripped during a hearing before Santiago’s committee last month—an outcome which led to a resounding public outcry, and even some personal attacks on Santiago, which Wiener publicly denounced.
“The legislative process is never perfectly clean or linear, it always has twists and turns, and all that matters is, in the end, you get to the right place. I believe we are headed in that direction,” Wiener said. At the end of last month’s committee hearing, both Santiago and Wiener publicly committed to working together moving forward. “We did what we said we were going to do,” Wiener said. “And we got the job done.”
The negotiations, which closed gaping loopholes through which internet service providers could theoretically block web traffic and excise exorbitant fees, were also aided by Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Oakland and Sen. Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles. Notably, S.B. 822 once again prohibits ISPs from charging unreasonable “access fees” and stops them from congesting web traffic at the point of interconnection. It also prohibits ISPs from zero-rating their own content, enabling companies like AT&T (which now owns CNN) from choosing which online services subscribers can use without impacting their data limits.
Sen. de Leon introduced his own net neutrality bill in January that will accompany Wiener’s. While S.B. 822 contains the net neutrality protections similar to those offered nationwide before the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission scrapped them, de Leon’s S.B. 460 seeks to prevent ISPs that violate net neutrality from obtaining state contracts.
“Our communities need every protection possible to close corporate loopholes, bridge the digital divide and support a thriving California economy,” said Brandi Collins, senior campaign director for Color of Change. “The devil is always in the details, so we are guardedly optimistic but commend Senators Weiner and de Leon’s leadership in ensuring corporate shenanigans don’t trump the overwhelming will of the people.”
After a short recess period, both bills will be heard before an appropriations committee, which will consider their cost, before a vote before the full Assembly in the first week of August.
“At no time in history, do we need an open and free internet like we need it now,” Santiago told reporters Thursday, citing the Trump administration’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, the fight over a woman’s right to choose, and, among other issues, the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Now more than ever, we need to be able to tell these stories,” Santiago said. “We need to be able to empower people with information that is accurate—information that fuels our progressive movement across this country.”
While a significant hurdle has been overcome, a considerable challenge awaits the lawmaker’s efforts to ensure net neutrality for every Californian. “It’s going to be a dogfight,” Wiener told Gizmodo. “Internet service providers, telecoms, cable companies, they are fierce advocates.”
“They’re absolutely going to fight us to death on this bill,” he said.