After securing votes in the California legislature last week, coauthors of the state’s comprehensive net neutrality bill gathered on Thursday in downtown Los Angeles to call on Governor Jerry Brown to back the legislation and reenact strong open internet protections for the state’s 40 million residents.
Joined by a coalition of progressive activists, Senator Scott Weiner and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago urged Brown to sign Senate Bill 822 by the end of the month, framing its passage into law as an essential step toward protecting California residents and small businesses from the discriminatory practices of the nation’s biggest internet service providers.
“We must protect the right of every Californian to a free and open internet,” said Weiner, Democrat of San Francisco.
S.B. 822’s nine-month journey to the governor’s desk was nothing short of Tolkienesque. Working from the shadows, the state’s powerful telecom lobby challenged its passage with grim persistence at virtually every step, painting the bill through synthetic “grassroots” campaigns as an “internet tax” that would effectively destroy California families and cripple their businesses.
That the bill held its own against an adversary with a bottomless warchest and unfettered access to the ears of the state’s most influential leaders speaks volumes about the popularity of net neutrality among everyday Americans. For an overwhelming majority of California legislators, no campaign check of any size could undo the damage inflicted by opposing the bill in public.
Governor Brown declined to comment. A spokesperson said his office typically does not weigh in on pending legislation.
If the bill is signed, it will deal a striking blow to AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and other major providers that have invested millions of dollars over the past decade to prevent net neutrality from becoming law of the land. These companies won a decisive victory this year after the Trump administration repealed the milestone 2015 Open Internet Order, which had reclassified internet service as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
With the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) reins now in the hands of a Republican majority, the agency voted in December to no longer treat high-speed internet as a telecommunications service, essentially abdicating its own authority to prevent broadband providers from freely slowing or blocking online services, as they had repeatedly done before, and in some cases after, the 2015 order was passed.
Calling for “light touch” regulation, the FCC asserts that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has all the power necessary to prevent abuse by internet providers. But as an incident this month involving Verizon throttling the data of firefighters battling a massive California wildfire demonstrates, the FTC is largely hindered from acting proactively to prevent such reckless behavior.
“Protecting access to the internet and the free flow of information online is critical to our democracy and [S.B. 822] is an important first step to reinstating net neutrality across America,” Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the California-based Courage campaign, said in a statement.
S.B. 822 is by far the most ambitious attempt yet by a state to reestablish net neutrality and halt the potential transformation of internet providers into absolute gatekeepers of information freely shared online. The bill not only mirrors the language of the 2015 order’s underlying rules, but the 300-pages worth of essential explanations describing how the rules should be interpreted and applied.
S.B. 822 would forbid ISPs from discriminating against websites and services by blocking or throttling their traffic and further prohibits them from charging app and content providers exorbitant fees to reach end users. Additionally, it would ban ISPs from congesting web traffic for the purpose of exacting unreasonable payments from essential services necessary to connect users on ISP networks to other parts of the web.
What’s more, the bill outlaws certain “zero-rating” schemes, which ISPs could enact to incentivize the use of apps and services from which the companies exclusively profit. (It does not, however, ban the use of zero-rating programs altogether, as some telecom industry defenders have falsely claimed.)
“SB 822 is a crucial step toward ensuring that we have a free and open internet that doesn’t discriminate or price users or content differently,” Assemblymember Santiago said Thursday, uring Governor Brown to sign the bill before the September 30 deadline.
“California must lead by example,” he said, “and show the Trump Administration that their backward agenda will not be accepted.”