Net neutrality — the legal mandate that internet service providers such as AT&T and Sprint treat the data of all users equally — has been the engine for incredible things. Netflix and other innovators have increased consumer choice and affordability. Black Lives Matter and other movements have spread messages without fear of being charged extra. Ordinary people all over the world have used the internet to challenge powerful institutions without fear of censorship.
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It shouldn't surprise you that the rich and powerful, led by cronies in Donald Trump's administration, have tried to end net neutrality. Last December, the Federal Communications Commission voted to end it while offering no replacement. On April 23, the repeal finally takes effect.
In California, however, we have an opportunity to fight back.
Senate Bill 822, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would maintain net neutrality in our state, prohibiting ISPs from blocking, speeding up or slowing down websites, or charging certain content distributors more than others.
The bill, scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday, would be a huge step toward a fair, open internet in California — making sure our not-so-little corner of the web remains a place where every movie, every blog post, every tweet and every rallying cry travels at the same speed and with the same cost, no matter who sends it.
Though the national debate about net neutrality often centers around the internet's big businesses — Facebook, Apple and the rest of Silicon Valley — SB 822 is particularly needed to stick up for the rights of small businesses.
Mom-and-pop shops in our communities need net neutrality to compete with massive online retailers. Amazon can afford to pay for "preferred access," but many small businesses can’t — and with less competition, everybody loses.
Not to mention, our physical safety could be in jeopardy if the Legislature fails to pass SB 822. Emergency response, fire and police departments all rely on internet access. Earthquake warnings and Amber alerts could be slowed if net neutrality is eliminated. Cash-strapped city budgets shouldn't have to bear the burden of exorbitant fees just so basic services can keep up with Comcast.
Passing SB 822 will be particularly meaningful to people of color, who make up 36 percent of the U.S. population but own just seven percent of media outlets and three percent of TV stations. An open internet allows people of color to have their voices heard alongside those with power and influence.
In revoking net neutrality, the Trump administration has created yet another nasty problem, but if we pass SB 822, California will have found a brave, fair and progressive answer.
Tim Molina is political director at Courage Campaign, an advocacy group based in California. He can be contacted at email@example.com.