California Just Passed the Strictest Net Neutrality Protections in the Nation. Here’s How One California County Helped Make it Happen.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last month establishing the strictest net neutrality protections in the country. And while lawmakers had been eyeing the new rules for some time, there is no downplaying the critical role that one California county played in bringing the bill to fruition.

It all began in July when firefighters across the state, including those from Santa Clara, were battling the Mendocino Complex Fire — the largest in California’s history. In the midst of firefighting efforts, SCCFD's communications were interrupted, leaving critical emergency response measures in the lurch.

The cause was the throttling of data by provider Verizon, according to Santa Clara's fire chief. The department had maxed out its data, the company said, and it offered to restore speed only upon adoption of a much more expensive data plan.

Net neutrality experts were quick to blame the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality, insisting this could have never occurred under the previous FCC rules. Verizon disputes that. Politifact’s John Kruzel has rated as “half true” the claim that net neutrality repeal was to blame.

Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the loss of critical communications — and the resulting headlines — had an impact on SB 822’s progress in the Legislature.

“The incident certainly provided us with some momentum on the legislation,” the bill’s author Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) told tech magazine “There was a dispute about whether or not the incident was a net neutrality violation. Some experts said it was, others said it wasn’t. But regardless of that it really highlighted the reality that network neutrality is a public safety concern.”

The California Department of Justice is now taking California to court over SB 822 and the SCCFD's experience could once again play a pivotal role. There are several key arguments that can be made by each side, but California’s need to protect the public may prove to be the most persuasive among them.