Yesterday, California State Senator Scott Wiener achieved a major victory when his net neutrality protection bill, SB-822, was passed through the legislation's Communications and Conveyance Committee by a 9-3 vote. Having passed the Senate in May, the bill will now advance to the State Assembly, where it needs 41 votes to pass before going to Jerry Brown's desk. If signed into law, it will grant California the strongest net neutrality protections in the nation.
For those who have been following SB-822 from the start, this is a major victory, especially given where they were two months ago. The last time it went before this committee, Chairman Miguel Santiago gutted it, rendering it a net neutrality bill in name only. Undeterred, Wiener worked with Santiago, as well as colleagues Rob Bonta and Kevin de León, to restore its original protections, which they announced in a triumphant press conference last month. Santiago himself voted with the majority in yesterday's hearing.
SB-822 will prevent internet service providers from interfering with your favorite websites. It also places restrictions on zero-rating, a practice by which ISPs force users into using their own sponsored streaming services with the promise that they won't count against your monthly data plan - while charging fees for sites like Netflix and Amazon. ISPs have defended this practice by claiming it protects low-income Californians, but Wiener says it would lead to the "cable-ization of the internet."
“The internet needs to be free and open," he said, "where we as individuals get to decide where we go and the next Amazon or Google that is three people in someone’s garage right now get access to customers without having to pay a fee that they can’t afford to pay.”
Also advanced through the committee yesterday was de León's net neutrality bill, SB-460, which complements SB-822's protections by prohibiting companies who violate them from receiving public contracts.
"Net neutrality is critical to safeguarding the integrity of our democracy, which is why we are committed to making sure that every single Californian has equal access to the information and resources on the internet," he said.
But protecting net neutrality isn't just about accessing Netflix free of charge: it's also about saving lives, as Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden learned the hard way last month.
Attempting to fight the Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California, which has expanded to an area nearly half the size of Rhode Island, Bowden realized that Verizon had reduced his data rates, slowing his internet speed and making it harder for him to coordinate with his fellow firemen via email. Even though the fire department had already paid extra for unlimited data, Verizon continued to throttle them until they paid even more for greater speed.
"This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services," he said. "Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services."
This week, Chief Bowden filed a declaration in Mozilla v. FCC, a pro-net neutrality lawsuit making its way into the U.S. Court of Appeals. claiming that without the original protections in place, broadband companies will bilk users for extra money during natural disasters. In his declaration, he included the emails sent between the fire department and Verizon, which undermine the ISP's apologies.
Commenting on the fire, Wiener said it proves "how critical internet access is to everything - including public safety."