Lobbying is a major concern in the United States politics. The campaigns of government frontrunners are usually financed by large corporations, in an attempt to exert their influence and power over nationwide policies once their candidate is elected. The oil and tobacco companies have forever indulged in such operations, expecting their candidate to repeal any bill that undermines their business. The latest corporations to join the club are Internet Service Providers (ISP). Telecom giants such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have used their vast sums of money to buy out politicians and government agencies – including the ones officiating the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It’s no wonder, that under the Trump administration, the FCC repealed Net Neutrality on October 2017.
So what exactly is Net Neutrality? It’s the process by which all websites and searches are treated equally on the internet. Usually, ISP’s block or throttle traffic on their broadband services. This results in certain “fast lane websites” to gain speedier access to consumers. For example, you could pay a chunk of money to Comcast to speed up the loading of your website over your competitor’s. This would result in certain websites behaving slowly on a network, while others, who have paid a vast chunk of money to the ISP, loading with increased speed.
The Obama administration passed the Net Neutrality bill to ensure such ‘buy-outs’ doesn’t happen on the fairground that is the internet. However, FCC, led by Ajit Pai, repealed that rule with support from a majority of Republicans – most of them in the pocket of such ISP giants. He argued that “net neutrality was imposing on the multi-billion dollar telecommunications conglomerates that control most of the country’s internet infrastructure.” Nonetheless, the decision was cast as the most unpopular tech policy in the history of the modern internet.
Following up to the repeal, many states started exploring alternatives to the federally instated law. At first, Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed an executive order that forced ISP to abide by net neutrality rules within the state. On 22nd January, 2018, he tweeted: “Montana’s future depends on a free and open internet.” Following it, Washington DC Governor Jay Inslee also signed a bill that prohibited ISP’s from slowing down or blocking legal content, apps, and services.
California, home to a vast majority of tech companies, has been at the forefront of such state-led fight for Net Neutrality. On 1st September, the SB822, a state-level replacement to the FCC’s discarded federal rule, was approved overwhelmingly by the State Senate. Being approved by the State Assembly earlier in the week, the bill is now headed to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. After his sign on the bill, it’s set to become a state law that undermines the federal rule to repeal to Net Neutrality across U.S. The legislation was pushed by State Senator Scott Wiener, who said, “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.”
While ISP has definite influence over federal senators, they do not hold the power to fight each and every state to repeal the law. With the passing of California’s Net Neutrality bill, it provides inspiration for other left-aligned states to carry on the fight in an attempt to ensure the internet remains a fair playground for all websites.