Nearly every American relies on the Internet. Many of us take for granted the fact that we have full, open access to the Internet. We can pull out our phones and access the Internet anywhere and at any time. We can turn on our laptops or iPads and have the world at our fingertips in an instant. The fight to keep the Internet “neutral,” however, has been going on for over a decade.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that keeps the Internet open and free. Net neutrality laws prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Time Warner from restricting customers’ access to certain websites. Without net neutrality, ISPs would be able to slow down service for whichever websites they choose and force businesses and their customers to pay a premium price for fast internet access for specific websites.
In 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama voiced his support for net neutrality and his desire to keep the Internet “open and free,” if he were elected President. In 2010, one year after President Obama had been inaugurated, the Federal Communications Commission released strong net neutrality regulations. Weeks later, however, Verizon filed a federal lawsuit, and the Federal Court disallowed those net neutrality regulations. After over 100,000 people signed a petition, the FCC went about re-issuing their rules. In June of 2016, the Federal Court of Appeals upheld those rules.
New President, New Rules
Once President Trump took office in 2017, however, the face of the Federal Communications Commission changed, and net neutrality was back in the spotlight. President Trump appointed Ajit Pai Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Before becoming Chair of the FCC, Ajit Pai was a lawyer for Verizon.
In December 2017, some 12 months after President Trump’s inauguration, the FCC dismantled its own net neutrality rules. Congress failed to prevent the dismantling of the FCC’s rules resulting in the official death of net neutrality in 2018. Internet providers have indicated they don’t intend to slow down access to popular sites like Netflix and Amazon, but they do intend to create “fast lanes,” which will enable users to pay a premium for faster service. And, those intentions could change whenever the companies see fit.
California Goes Rogue
California has stood up against a number of Trump-era policies, including forced arbitration agreements in employment contracts, climate change protections, and now it’s taking on net neutrality, too.
Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat out of San Francisco, introduced a bill in California that would protect net neutrality and punish those Internet service providers that do not provide free and equal access to all websites in the State of California.
Wiener’s bill, Senate Bill 822, has already been approved in the California Assembly, which means it is now headed to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown for approval. If the Governor does sign the bill into law, however, it’s safe to assume the fight will continue in the courtroom. It’s likely that major companies like Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T will file lawsuits, just as they did when the FCC initially enacted its net neutrality rules.
California is not the only state to attempt to enact its own net neutrality laws. 29 other states are also making the effort to protect consumers. It will be very interesting to watch the legal battle between states and the federal government play out. Will the states be able to enact their own rules that override those put in place by the Federal Communications Commission? So far, the answer to that question is “yes,” but whether the state laws will survive in court is still an open question.