After it was viciously gutted last month, many observers thought California’s net neutrality bill was a lost cause. But today, lawmakers announced that they’d reached an agreement to ensure that the legislation will move forward after all, and include tough regulatory provisions.
Introduced in the wake of the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality provisions, SB 822 and SB 460 reinstated the net neutrality rules outlined in the 2015 Open Internet Order, banned harmful zero-rating programs, and prohibited broadband providers from charging websites access fees.
But before they could be passed into law, the bills were gutted in the Communications and Conveyance Committee. The chairman of the committee, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, broke standard procedure and forced a vote on a set of amendments that stripped the legislation of what would have been the toughest ISP rules in the country.
The amendments were disclosed on the eve of the committee vote, and railroaded through without any time for debate. Sen. Scott Wiener, sponsor of SB 822, attempted to withdraw the bill and failed, and the committee went on to pass the toothless legislation.
Over the last week and half, legislators have been working to restore regulatory provisions to the bills and today, Sen. Wiener led a press conference with both his cosponsor, Sen. Kevin De Leon, and Assemblyman Santiago announcing that the key provisions were going to be put back into them.
“This will be the most comprehensive and the strongest net neutrality protection in the United States where we are restoring what we lost when Donald Trump’s FCC obliterated net neutrality,” Sen. Wiener said at today’s press conference.
Santiago addressed questions about why he initially opposed the more aggressive language, saying that the lawmakers involved with drafting the legislation disagreed on the proper ways to move forward. Wiener agreed with Santiago saying, “When I look back on this, we needed more time to make sure we were on the same page.” The details of these disagreements were not described by either lawmaker.
Today, Santiago seemed enthusiastic about the very same provisions he’d stripped out only a week earlier. “Let’s be very clear about what we’re doing today. We are talking about introducing the strongest net neutrality bill in the nation. And this is important because in no time in history have we ever demanded this kind of action faced with what we’ve seen at the national level,” he said.
Over the last week and a half, net neutrality advocacy group Fight for the Future has put pressure on Santiago, and launched a crowdfunding effort to shame him for gutting the legislation. Though $14,000 was raised, the group has put that plan on hold after today’s announcement. “We appreciate Assemblymember Miguel Santiago’s change of heart,” Evan Greer, the group’s deputy director said. “This should be a lesson to other lawmakers: don’t mess with net neutrality unless you’re prepared to feel your constituents’ wrath.”
The more rigorous net neutrality provisions will be reinstated through a series of amendments in the next few weeks. It’s uncertain whether these new amendments will be headed for a committee or floor vote once the California legislature is back in session. The bills have until August 31st to be approved by the legislature.