Wikimedia Foundation supports net neutrality protections for California

Image: Credo Action (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Jacob Rogers, Senior Legal Counsel, Wikimedia Foundation
Thais Lina Aragao de Carvalho, Legal Fellow, Wikimedia Foundation

Earlier today, the Wikimedia Foundation sent a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown urging him to sign into law SB 822, a California state bill that would reintroduce net neutrality protections at the state level. We’ve reposted our letter below.


RE: Sign SB 822 and bring California into a position of national leadership

Dear Governor Brown:

The Wikimedia Foundation, the San Francisco-based non-profit that hosts and operates Wikipedia and its related knowledge projects, writes to respectfully request that you sign the recent net neutrality legislation, SB 822, passed by the California State Legislature.

SB 822 mirrors the language of the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order, since reversed, which had effectively prevented Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from discriminating among websites and applications by blocking or slowing some, or prioritizing access to others in exchange for a fee. This protection from discrimination, which represents the fundamental principle of net neutrality, is absolutely critical for fair and just access to knowledge. Its loss threatens to exacerbate the digital divide between those with the means to pay for access to knowledge, and those who will be effectively priced out from accessing information they need to be successful in today’s digital world. By signing SB 822, you can establish California as the leading state in protecting the free and open internet that is essential for all people, including almost forty million Californians, to access knowledge.

The Wikimedia Foundation’s vision is a world in which every single human being can freely access the world’s knowledge. The most important tool that we use to work towards this vision is the internet. The Wikimedia Foundation pursues our vision by providing every single person who has an internet connection free access to Wikipedia. Unlike other internet platforms, the Wikimedia Foundation does not curate or otherwise edit Wikipedia. Rather, we host an open platform that empowers internet users from around the world to collaborate, write, and curate the educational content that comprises Wikipedia. As a result, Wikipedia and its related knowledge projects received 3.5 billion page views in the United States in the month of August alone, including over 895 million page views in California. And, because every Wikipedia article is freely-licensed, we enable other organizations — non-profit, academic, and for-profit — to study, reuse, and redistribute our content.

Wikipedia, as the largest online repository of free knowledge, serves as a hub for a vast ecosystem that generates immense value for the public. The Wikimedia Foundation supports SB 822 to help ensure that all Californians and as many people as possible are able to freely collaborate on Wikipedia and to benefit from and contribute to the knowledge that it contains.

But Wikipedia does not exist in a vacuum. When users collaborate to work on Wikipedia, they draw upon reliable sources from other sites around the internet, from local newspapers, small publications, and from universities and journals, among others. If the principles of net neutrality remain undermined, ISPs will be able to decide what sites their users can view and will have every incentive to block or throttle access to smaller sites and sources that may not be able to pay the same amount as affluent corporations. This will likely work to the detriment of libraries, universities, and small publishers, and will in turn harm Californians’ ability to access this knowledge online. Over time, blocking and throttling will make it difficult for citizens to even know what information is available as their ability to access different sources becomes more and more limited. Moreover, even where information is accessible, users who rely on public libraries and hotspots for their access are likely to be severely impacted, as their access providers are less likely to be able to afford the “fast lane” premiums ISPs are allowed to charge in the absence of net neutrality rules.

Your administration has prioritized education as essential to both California’s democratic values and economic development. We firmly believe that our democracy requires an informed citizenry that enjoys free and equal access to information. And, in today’s online, connected world, unfettered access to knowledge and information is critical for all people to be able to participate in the economy. The Wikimedia Foundation believes that ISPs should not determine which Californians are able to educate themselves and build our state’s future as both informed participants in self-governance and as engines for economic growth — and which Californians are to be left out. The rules of access to the internet should be fair and should not contribute to the digital divide.

We therefore request that you sign SB 822 and bring California into a position of national leadership in protecting access to knowledge for all its residents.

Respectfully submitted,

The Wikimedia Foundation