CA Net Neutrality Bill Lives: Lawmakers Restore Toughest Rules

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California’s proposed new net neutrality law that appeared to be on life support after it was “eviscerated” in a state assembly committee two weeks ago suddenly sprang back to life on Thursday when the bill’s author announced that state lawmakers had reached an agreement to put the toughest provisions of the act back in the bill and move it to the next step of the legislative approval process.

The Republican controlled Federal Communications Commission, headed by Donald Trump appointee Ajit Pai, in December repealed Obama-era rules which guaranteed that all content providers should be treated equally by the giant telecommunications firms that control most internet access, a repeal that took effect on June 11.

In response, several states have crafted their own state-level net neutrality bills—but none as comprehensive or important as California’s SB 822, authored by San Francisco state Senator Scott Wiener, in the state that is home to Silicon Valley where many of the tech industry’s most important companies have their home offices.

"In the aftermath of Trump’s destruction of the internet, we are advancing legislation with the strongest net neutrality and consumer protections in the nation. California leads the fight for a free and open internet that doesn’t discriminate or price users or content differently,” said Los Angeles Assembly member Miguel Santiago—who chairs the committee that stripped the bill of its key provisions in June—allegedly at Santiago's own behest! “The fight for social change and progressive values is directly tied to a free and open internet.”

Wiener’s SB 822 bill is now combined with another net neutrality bill making its way through the legislature: SB 460, sponsored by Los Angeles Senator Kevin DeLeon. DeLeon’s bill was more narrowly focused, requiring only that internet service providers who enter into state government contracts adhere to net neutrality standards.

“The net neutrality proposal put forward in SB 822 and SB 460 stands for the basic proposition that the role of internet service providers (ISPs) is to provide neutral access to the internet,” a statement issued by Wiener’s office on Thursday read. “Not to pick winners and losers by deciding (based on financial payments or otherwise) which websites or applications will be easy or hard to access, which will have fast or slow access, and which will be blocked entirely.”

How did Wiener and Santiago finally agree on language that would allow the tough provisions to remain, after Santiago had stripped them out?

"He wanted a bill that reflected the protections of [the Obama-era net neutrality] order and is defensible in court," Wiener told the tech news site Ars Technica. "Those are two things I wanted as well. It was just a matter of having a product that we both agreed got us there."

The FCC, in its new rules repealing Obama-era net neutrality, also said that any state net neutrality laws would be overruled by the federal repeal. But Santiago told The Washington Post that he is now confident that California’s law will withstand a legal challenge from the feds, and according to a Wired magazine report, legal experts say that whether the FCC has the authority to simply overrule state laws is far from clear.

The California legislature must vote on the bill by August 31, and it would still require approval from outgoing Governor Jerry Brown, if SB 822 passes.

Photo by Slowking/Wikimedia Commons