John Oliver’s net neutrality rant inspires new legislation in Washington state

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In between exterminating and eradicating whatever screwed-up aspect of society was in his crosshairs each week, John Oliver used his HBO show Last Week Tonight to educate the public about net neutrality. When he ended his net neutrality segment by telling viewers to submit comments about the subject to the FCC, he didn’t just overwhelm their servers; he also inspired forward-thinking state legislation in the northwestern corner of the country.

Washington State Sen. Cyrus Habib, a Democrat, has introduced a bill that would allow residents of his state to testify about proposed legislation over the Internet.

The bill, S.B. 5267, is titled “Ordering development of processes to allow prerecorded video testimony and written testimony on pending legislation.” Its key passage reads as follows:

It is the intent of the legislature to establish 18 processes to allow the public to provide testimony on pending 19 legislation through prerecorded videos and written statements in an 20 effort to provide additional access to the legislative process and 21 opportunities for the public to provide testimony on legislation.

“It’s hard to get even five ordinary people—not paid lobbyists—to come down [to Olympia, the state capital,] and testify,” Habib told The Stranger, a Seattle-based newspaper.

Habib explicitly cited Oliver’s FCC segment, and the ensue tidal wave of viewer comments to the FCC, as evidence that the public wanted to weigh in, but didn’t always know how to do so.

“Here’s a guy who likes to take boring topics and make them interesting,” Habib said. “If you can do that for an administrative process like the FCC on net neutrality, imagine the level of interest in issues people are even more familiar with at the state level.”

Sen. Habib introduced his bill on Friday, Jan. 16. It had its first public hearing in the state Senate’s government oversight committee on Monday, Jan. 20.

“Never read the comments” is one of the Web’s most common refrains. For the sake of Washington state politics, let’s hope its legislators partially ignore that entreaty.

Last Week Tonight returns to HBO on Sunday, Feb. 8. In the meantime, watch John Oliver’s epic net neutrality rant again.

Photo via Last Week Tonight/HBO

Eric Geller

Eric Geller

Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.