Last year’s FCC decision to repeal net neutrality was arguably the most unpopular tech policy decision in the history of the modern internet. The repeal not only resulted in an unprecedented public backlash, but prompted numerous states to immediately begin exploring new state-level alternatives in the wake of the FCC’s retreat.
California lawmakers rallied enough votes Friday to pass the nation’s toughest net neutrality law to prevent Internet providers from favoring certain websites, setting up a fight with federal regulators who voted last year to erase such rules.
If Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs the law in the coming weeks, California will become the powerhouse in a growing group of states at odds with the Federal Communications Commission in a clash that could end up before the Supreme Court. California could become the fourth state to approve net neutrality regulations if Brown signs the bill. He has not taken a public stance on it, according to policy analysts, but the bill passed both Democrat-dominated state chambers by wide margins.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat, said in a statement that “when Donald Trump’s FCC decided to take a wrecking ball to net neutrality protections, we knew that California had to step in to ensure our residents have access to a free and open internet.”
The legislation, which was the subject of intense lobbying by the broadband industry, would prevent Internet providers from blocking, slowing or favoring certain websites. It would bar providers from collecting new fees from apps and sites as a condition of reaching Internet users. And it would make it illegal for carriers to exempt apps from consumers’ monthly data caps if doing so could harm competing start-ups and small businesses in “abusive” ways.
Celebrating with team #NetNeutrality after passage of #SB822, our bill creating the strongest net neutrality protections in the country. I’m on Cloud 9 that we were able to get this far, w such fierce industry opposition. Now we just need to persuade Gov. Brown to sign the bill! pic.twitter.com/ZQFJZ2JNwV
— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) September 1, 2018
The bill seeks to turn California into the leader of a widening state-led backlash against the FCC, which did not respond to a request for comment. On Friday, the state Senate tallied enough votes to pass the legislation. The state Assembly approved a version Thursday.
“It would have huge implications for the U.S., because California is so central to all things Net and is the world’s eighth-largest economy,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. A lawsuit targeting the bill could eventually find its way to the Supreme Court, Tobias added. The court is already weighing whether to hear an unrelated lawsuit on net neutrality.
California similarly took the regulatory lead in passing a sweeping online privacy law in June — something the federal government has not been able to do.