Net neutrality is the simple principle that consumers—and not their internet service providers (ISPs)—get to choose what apps, services and websites they want to use. The FCC repealed net neutrality on the federal level in December, despite widespread public opposition.
Though the FCC’s repeal order purports to pre-empt state action, states can still take action protect the free and open internet.
SB 822 would be the strongest state net neutrality protection in the nation
SB 822, introduced by Senator Scott Wiener, will reinstate net neutrality protections in California and prevent ISPs from engaging in practices that interfere with free and open access to the internet. This means that ISPs cannot block, throttle, or speed up/slow down specific content and cannot charge access fees for specific content.
Importantly, it also prevents violations of net neutrality through a practice known as “zero-rating,” a sneaky mechanism that ISPs sometimes use to favor some content over others. In zero rating, an ISP can declare that certain content (e.g. the ISP’s own content or that from a company that pays the ISP a premium) is “zero-rated” and, therefore, does not count against a user’s data cap. This is a way of prioritizing content without charging an access fee. SB 822 is the only state net neutrality bill that explicitly bans anti-competitive forms of zero-rating, while not banning zero-rating plans that are pro-consumer and not anti-competitive (e.g. zero-rating all online video, as opposed to just zero-rating Netflix but not Hulu).
Constituent power saved California’s hope for net neutrality
The fight for net neutrality in California has been dramatic, with ISPs pouring big money into efforts to squash pro-consumer legislation. Initially, there were two competing net neutrality bills: SB 822, which we outline above, and SB 460, introduced by Senator Kevin de Leon. After moving through the legislature separately, both bills were scheduled for a hearing in late June in the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee. After sustained constituent pressure and a coalition letter signed by Indivisibles and other progressive organizations, Senator de Leon agreed to join forces with SB 822. His bill was to be amended to prevent public entities (i.e. state or local governments) from contracting with ISPs that don’t comply with net neutrality, and the two bills were to be linked together.
But internet advocates couldn’t celebrate for long. The next day, the Chairman of the Asm. Communications and Conveyance Committee, Miguel Santiago, pushed through a package of hostile amendments that effectively gutted the bill before the bill hearing even took place. This was an unprecedented move and the backlash against Asm. Santiago was swift and fierce.
Thankfully, constituent pressure works. Before adjourning for the July recess, Senators Wiener and de Leon and Assembly Members Santiago and Bonta held a joint press conference announcing that they would walk back the hostile amendments and carry forward with the deal initially struck between Senators Wiener and de Leon. The people of California spoke out and may have saved the internet for their state.
Both SB 822 and SB 460 have passed through the full Senate and Assembly policy committees. They will be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which will consider the fiscal impact of the bills. If they pass, they will head to the full Assembly floor where they must pass before August 31st.
For Assembly Appropriations Committee Members
Hi, my name is <YOUR NAME> and I am from <YOUR TOWN>. I'm calling to express my strong support of Senate Bills 822 and 460, which will protect net neutrality in California. Once amended, these bills would show California’s leadership by crafting strong legislation to protect consumers and establish net neutrality policy after the FCC dismantled it in December. Can I count on Assemblymember <NAME> to vote yes on both of these bills in the Assembly Appropriations Committee?