Digital justice advocates’ efforts paid off yesterday (September 30) as California Governor Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) signed into law a bill protecting net neutrality rules—a move that prompted a near-instantaneous lawsuit from the Department of Justice.
Senate Bill (SB) 822 contains what CNN Money reports are the most stringent net neutrality protections in the United States. The California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018 prohibits internet service providers (ISPs), including telecommunications giants like Verizon and Comcast, from selectively inhibiting connection speeds, content access or any other component of equitable internet use.
SB 822 makes California, the home of Silicon Valley and decades of technological innovation, the most populous state to pass net neutrality regulations after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal previous federal protections last year.
“What California does definitely impacts the national conversation,” bill co-author and state senator Chris Wiener (D-11th District) told CNN Money. “I do believe that this bill…will move us in a positive direction nationally on net neutrality.”
Digital justice groups who pushed for this and other net neutrality regulations see them as a necessary protection for marginalized communities against telecommunications corporations’ power. The Center for Media Justice (CMJ) released a statement today (October 1) that called SB 822 “a historic victory which advances the ongoing civil rights fight for equal voice.”
“The signing of SB 822 marks a long-fought victory, particularly for Californians living on low incomes and communities of color fighting for an equal voice online,” CMJ national field organizer Erin Shields writes in the statement. “Seeing our digital civil rights under assault from the Trump administration’s FCC, Black and Brown communities have worked together to protect our right to dissent online, communicate, and share information in the 21st century. Victories like these demonstrate the power communities of color have built and continue to strengthen in the struggle to speak for ourselves and plead our own causes.”
FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, previously called the bill “illegal.” The Department of Justice agreed in the lawsuit it filed yesterday (September 30) against Brown and California attorney general Xavier Becerra in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California.
“Under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce—the federal government does,” attorney general Jeff Sessions argued in an accompanying statement. “Once again, the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy.”
The internet is inherently an interstate information service,” Pai adds in his own statement. ”As such, only the federal government can set policy in this area.”