Did you know California has its very own net neutrality law?
It does! And, following a recent verdict in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, this law protecting internet users can finally be enforced, years after it was first signed.
Imagine a system where your internet service provider charged you more just to access Netflix (on top of your Netflix subscription!) because they cut a deal with Hulu or Disney+? This prevents that and other unfair tactics from the telecommunications companies.
Net neutrality is, once again, the law of the land...at least in California.
Let's break down what it is, what it does, and what just happened.
What is California’s net neutrality law?
SB-822, better known as the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018, was signed into law on Sept. 30 of that year by then-governor Jerry Brown.
The law came about in the wake of the FCC — led by Trump’s FCC chairman Ajit Pai — killing the Obama-era net neutrality laws at the federal level. This basically meant that telecommunication companies across the country could slow down traffic to certain websites or charge extra for a tiered-level of web services.
While other state legislatures had also drafted state-level net neutrality bills, only a few actually passed, in states like Vermont, Washington, and Oregon. And, as Gizmodo pointed out at the time, none of these laws came as close to replicating the net neutrality rules as California's, which provides the more than 39 million residents of the state with a number of legal protections from telecommunications companies gouging them for more money in the future in order to access the same information they can access today.
In fact, experts laude it as even better than the previous neutrality laws at the federal level. The California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018 has been called the "gold standard" of net neutrality laws.
What does the law do?
California's net neutrality law prevents telecommunications companies from implementing a slew of different things — such as charging users extra for using smaller social media platforms but allowing free access to Facebook —which would create a tiered internet system costing consumers even more for a variety of services already available to them at no extra cost.
SB-822 prevents internet service providers from blocking or slowing down web traffic to the residents of California, a practice sometimes implemented when users exceed their bandwidth limits. It also prevents the telecommunications companies from forcing consumers to use the company’s devices, for example, requiring a modem rental with your internet service.
California’s net neutrality law also prohibits the ISPs from receiving payment in order to prioritize delivery of a certain company's web content. And it prevents these companies from "zero-rating" content, which is the practice of excluding certain content from a consumer’s data cap. For example, under this law, Google could not work out a deal with your ISP to allow unlimited YouTube viewing, but still count data from other video platforms against your plan rates.
What took the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018 so long to be implemented?
California’s net neutrality act can finally go into effect, more than two years after it was signed. So, what took it so long?
Two things: Trump’s Department of Justice and a lawsuit from the telecommunications companies.
Mere hours after the law was signed in 2018, Trump’s DOJ, led by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sued California to stop it. Just days later, four telecommunications lobbying groups filed their own lawsuit in order to block the bill.
However, the federal government’s tune changed after Donald Trump lost the election. President Joe Biden’s DOJ dropped the lawsuit this February. Biden’s acting FCC chair, Jessica Rosenworcel, voiced her support for the move.
Then, on Feb. 23, Judge John Mendez declined to provide the telecommunications industry with a preliminary injunction to temporarily block the law while the case proceeds. This means that California’s net neutrality law can now officially go into effect. Furthermore, the judge made it clear in his ruling that he doesn’t believe the telecom companies will be successful with their suit.
Many California residents will see no changes to their internet service packages...and that's a good thing. Telecom companies who try to institute practices prohibited by the state's net neutrality laws will face fines and penalties.
The decision was celebrated by many including California State Senator Scott Wiener, who authored the bill, and acting FCC chair Rosenworcel.
So, what’s next?
While California’s own net neutrality saga appears to be coming to a close, the fight to revive net neutrality at the federal level is on once again. Groups like the ACLU are putting pressure on President Biden and the Democratic Party to reinstate the Obama-era net neutrality laws, which the Trump administration quashed.
Biden's pick of Rosenworcel as acting FCC chair chair definitely sent a positive message towards those pushing for net neutrality. She has long held a pro net neutrality stance and even spoke out when Pai's FCC killed it.
For now, California has set an example for the rest of the country on how to keep the internet free and open for everyone.
Article originally published on Mashable