This past week, California's State Assembly and Senate passed Senate Bill 822, the most comprehensive set of Net Neutrality protections enacted in this nation since FCC Chairman Ajit Pai removed them at the federal level last December. The bill now heads to Governor Jerry Brown, who has until the end of the month to sign it into law.
"When we started early in the year with this legislation, we knew that we had a huge fight, and we didn’t know what was going to happen, but we got it done. And we got it done because this is what the people want, and the people have said over and over again, loud and clear, that they want an open internet," said Senator Scott Wiener, the principal legislator behind SB-822.
Why SB-822 is So Important
As has been said before, SB-822 prevents internet service providers from discriminating against websites by slowing traffic, or charging providers to reach their end users. It also bans zero-rating, a practice by which ISPs force end 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, a practice Weiner said would lead to "the cable-ization of the internet." It would also prevent
USTelecom lobbied heavily against the bill for months. A robocall campaign throughout the state told constituents that if it went through, SB-822 would raise their cell phone bill by as much as $30.00, and shadowy internet groups tried to spin the bill as an "internet tax." At first, it looked like they might succeed, as last June, the bill was gutted by Los Angeles Assemblyman Miguel Santiago to become an in-name-only measure, and Santiago himself has received donations from the telecom companies. But shortly before the Senate recess last July, Santiago and fellow Assemblyman Rob Bonta joined Wiener and his colleague, Senator Kevin de León, to announce they would restore the bill's provisions together.
Santiago introduced the bill before the State Assembly on Thursday, reminding his colleagues that an aye vote would "not only send a message to the rest of the nation but...make a statement that a free and open internet is essential to our democracy." Afterward, he faced more than half an hour of Republican counter-arguments, with many of the state's conservatives voicing their strong opposition to the bill.
The Nonsensical Opposition
Some of their arguments were flat-out ridiculous. Republican Assemblyman Travis Allan not only called Net Neutrality "a violation of...First Amendment rights," but even went so far as to say that without paid prioritization of the internet, "you can’t watch your Netflix movie because your neighbor down the road is downloading eight porn movies. So why should you have to pay in speed for the behavior of your neighbors?"
Other conservatives, like Jim Patterson, had more compelling arguments. If the bill passed, he worried, it would be "litigated presumably to the Supreme Court [because it] tramples fundamentally on the kinds of separated...and enumerated powers...that have been through courts and jurisdictions." But Majority Leader and Democrat Ian Calderon addressed the need to fill the hole the Trump Administration left when it sacked Net Neutrality when he said:
"We shouldn’t be the body that has to make this decision…we should be able to rely on the federal government to protect us...and we should be able to rely on our federal government to not roll back these protections...[but] we cannot rely on this federal government to protect us when we need protection."
In the end, the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 61-18, with one absentee vote. Every single Democrat voted for the bill, and six Republicans joined them: Dante Acosta, Catharine Baker, Jordan Cunningham, Tom Lackey, Brian Maienschein, and Chad Mayes. The State Senate, which had already voted yes on the bill last May before the disastrous assembly hearing, followed suit again, and here, Republican Senator Ling Ling Chang sided with the majority.
These seven conservatives who bolted party lines to support this bill should be commended for their actions, as should Santiago, who earlier this summer would have been the most unlikely person to support this measure. He expressed nothing but fondness for his Senate and Assembly colleagues at the press conference last Friday when he called their victory "nothing less than heroic," and added, "if we can do it in California, we can do this across the country."
Oregon, Washington, and Vermont have already passed their own Net Neutrality protections, and currently, Illinois and New York are debating their own measures. Now that California seems likely to move ahead with theirs, it has once again stepped up to be a role model for American progressives. If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere.