ISPs Lobbying California Lawmakers In Bid To Weaken State's Looming Net Neutrality Law

from the if-at-first-you-don't-succeed... dept

More than half the states in the nation now pursuing individual net neutrality rules, either in the form of executive orders (banning state contracts with net-neutrality violating ISPs) or new state laws. And while ISPs have been whining about the unfairness of having to adhere to independent requirements in each state, that's probably something their lobbyists should have thought more deeply about when they worked to kill what, despite all the prattle about heavy-handed regulation, were probably some of the more modest net neutrality rules worldwide.

ISPs first tried to stop states from protecting consumers by lobbying the FCC to include language in its "Restoring Internet Freedom" repeal attempting to ban states from doing so. But in the process of gutting their authority over ISPs Ajit Pai's FCC may have also, amusingly, completely neutered its ability to tell states what to do.

As such, ISP lobbyists have been forced to run, state to state, trying to convince state lawmakers that giving consumers, small businesses and internet competition a giant middle finger is the smart political play here with midterms looming. Verizon, AT&T and Comcast are working extra hard to weaken a bill in California, that is actually a bit tougher than the FCC rules it's intended to replace. As the EFF notes, ISPs are particularly worried that California will ban "zero rating," or the practice of using usage caps and overage fees anti-competitively:

"California’s legislature has so far opted to ban discriminatory users of zero rating and prevent the major wireless players from picking winners and losers online. But new and increased resistance by the ISP lobby (led by AT&T and their representative organization CALinnovates) unfortunately has legislators contemplating whether discriminatory zero rating practices should remain lawful despite their harms for low-income Internet users. In fact, AT&T and their representatives are even going so far as to argue that their discriminatory self-dealing practices that violate net neutrality are actually good for low income Internet users.

AT&T (and even Facebook) have been pushing this idea that zero rating "helps poor people" for a while. Basically, they're trying to argue that because some users get content that doesn't count against the cap, they're somehow providing added value to low-income Americans. Of course that ignores the fact that it's only an incumbent ISP's own content (or content from the biggest, wealthiest partners) that's usually exempt, raising all kinds of anti-competitive questions.

You'd also have to ignore than American consumers pay more money for LTE mobile data than a laundry list of developed nations, and that usage caps and overage fees on these lines are arbitrary, unnecessary and meaningless constructs in the first place. Still, AT&T has spent a few years now trying to falsely conflate arbitrary caps and penalties with things like "1-800" numbers or "free shipping," successfully convincing many consumers they're getting something for free.

You'll recall that initially, the FCC didn't want to act on usage caps, overage fees and zero rating for fear of being accused of stifling carrier innovation and creativity. As a result, the 2015 rules were crafted with pretty ambiguous guidance on zero rating, something we warned would be a problem. Only at the tail end of its tenure did the Wheeler FCC start to realize caps and overage fees were being used anti-competitively to favor an ISPs' content over smaller competitors, at which point Donald Trump and Ajit Pai had already come to power--and quickly set to purging the rules entirely. You know, for freedom.

California's net neutrality law doesn't ban zero rating if an ISP wants to exempt an entire class of content (say, video) from usage caps and overage fees. But it does prohibit ISPs from striking deals that give specific companies cap-exempt status, preventing companies from buying an unfair advantage for themselves or a competitor. Given AT&T just gobbled up Time Warner and HBO with zero rating specifically in mind (HBO is free on our network but costs money if you use a competitor), you can understand why AT&T's so opposed to these rules.

This all comes to a head this Wednesday with a vote and hearing before the California Assembly’s Communications and Conveyance Committee. And while the majority of that committee say they support net neutrality, net neutrality activists say that major ISP lobbyists have succeeded in getting some lawmakers (like Committee head Miguel Santiago) to waffle on the whole zero rating part of the equation. After all, nothing quite says "restoring freedom" like letting AT&T give its own horse a half-mile lead in the streaming video wars to come.


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  • identicon
    David, 20 Jun 2018 @ 3:56am

    You are mixing up things.

    AT&T (and even Facebook) have been pushing this idea that zero rating "helps poor people" for a while. Basically, they're trying to argue that because some users get content that doesn't count against the cap, they're somehow providing added value to low-income Americans. Of course that ignores the fact that it's only an incumbent ISP's own content (or content from the biggest, wealthiest partners) that's usually exempt, raising all kinds of anti-competitive questions.

    It does help poor people. Beggars can't be choosers, and they get their choice pre-made. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch of course, and the "free" channels recoup their costs by excessive advertising and by placing proxy servers near the end points. The ads drives less poor people off to metered offers which incidentally have become more expensive since the quotas have been down-adjusted because of the available "zero rated" choices.

    So yes: this does give less expensive options to poor choices while jacking up the prices for everyone else and/or reducing options.

    The clincher is that the telcom companies get to advertise the rates for the paupers' Internet as their regular rates. Which looks good on paper but means that your monthly bills will be way above what you've been led to expect from the advertised rates.

    Posterchild marketing. Doing good for your image and not all that much beyond. But undeniably some.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 21 Jun 2018 @ 7:43am

      Re: You are mixing up things.

      What you're missing, or at least not pointing out, is that it only "helps" by taking away part of a "hurt" (the caps) that the ISPs themselves inflicted - and continue to inflict, everywhere outside of the scope of the limited exemptions they deign to offer.

      It's technically within the bounds of the meaning of the term to describe that as "helping", but it's not nearly as simple a positive thing as just that term alone would make it sound.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2018 @ 4:35am

    It has just occurred to me that the politicians are probably loving the FCC repeal as they are now getting a double-dip of lobbying perks!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 20 Jun 2018 @ 5:49am

      Re:

      No, it's just that now the state politicians get their share rather than the federal ones. There is some overlap, of course, but also a number of fresh pockets to line.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2018 @ 5:28am

    i'll take a guess here, and say that out of the 2 in the running, the people and the ISPs, it wont be a vote in favor of the people! the ISPs have so much to lose, financially and control wise, that they'll be chucking money at politicians like men with no arms!! they did whatever they had to do to get Pai, their industries dicky licker into the FCC chair to get Net Neutrality repealed and anyone who thinks that they are gonna stop now, especially after starting the buy-ins to control what people can see as well, is in cloud cuckoo land!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2018 @ 7:00am

      Re:

      Well... the FCC sees them as monopolies to be regulated, which means they don't fight the monopoly, just regulate it as one.

      Which also means, citizens no longer have a voice because these monopolies are now government "blessed" and now that these businesses no longer need to actually compete for customers they can all gouge customers in their little carved up fiefdoms.

      Yes, Pai is doing well as the industries dicklick, but it is shortsighted to no also bring up the fact that it was all made possible by the Pro NN crowd and the real shame is that they don't even understand how they are the builders and architects of their own demise.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2018 @ 7:51am

        Re: Re:

        It's kinda sad that you do not recognize a natural monopoly when you see it, and the need to regulate that monopoly to stop it wrecking any business that depends on its services that it does not like.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2018 @ 8:16am

          Re: Re: Re:

          That natural monopoly is one that was CREATED, stop using that bullshit excuse to wipe the egg of your silly face.

          This is one area where the "property" should become "public". We did it with Water, and we did it with Roads... time for the poles and wires to get the same treatment...

          O wait, I forgot you actually WANT the monopolies while also saying monopolies are bad and business is bad, but give businesses their monopolies because we can then use it as an excuse to build bigger government to control them.

          Someone ran up on your porch stole your logic and replaced it with a bag full of shit and lit it on fire and then rang your fucking bell!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2018 @ 8:30am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Public ownership is nothing more than monopoly ownership by the government, and is one way of dealing with natural monopoly situations. The other is to regulate a private company as a monopoly provider, which is how my Internet is supplied. I am getting better than 3MB, that is bytes, over ISDN at 3 miles out from the nearest roadside cabinet, and it is unlimited with no below the line charges.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2018 @ 9:17am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              The "difference without a distinction" card is an extremely dishonest play here and pretty much tells me that you know you are already wrong which is a positive sign showing that you at least recognize that, but a bad sign that you are also holding onto political dogmatic views and unwilling to let go of them.

              And public ownership is the ONLY way to handle natural monopolies.

              "I am getting better than 3MB, that is bytes, over ISDN at 3 miles out from the nearest roadside cabinet, and it is unlimited with no below the line charges."

              What? We are talking about monopoly and regulation, not bandwidth speeds, technology, or distances here.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            The Wanderer (profile), 21 Jun 2018 @ 7:44am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            A created monopoly is by definition not a natural monopoly. If you knew what a natural monopoly was, you would understand that.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2018 @ 8:10am

    I was wondering why Dick wasn't bothering to sign in - turns out he's been spending a lot of time on his knees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2018 @ 10:07am

    1-800 numbers

    Still, AT&T has spent a few years now trying to falsely conflate arbitrary caps and penalties with things like "1-800" numbers or "free shipping,"

    That's interesting, because according to AT&T:

    Please note that you will be charged airtime on "800" or other "toll-free" type calls

    See also this official PDF: "Place calls with your GoPhone Pay As You Go service while within your coverage area to: ... • Toll-free numbers (airtime charges apply)".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2018 @ 1:56pm

      Re: 1-800 numbers

      The article said they were trying to get PEOPLE to believe that zero rating and caps are like 1-800 numbers, they didn't say that THEY BELIEVED IT (or honored it)...

      Do as we say, not as we do... we are the Corporations, you are the sheeple, all your base are belong to us

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 20 Jun 2018 @ 12:25pm

    Politics gets paid..

    So that YOU HAVE TO PAY MORE...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Thad, 20 Jun 2018 @ 3:18pm

    It appears to have worked, at least temporarily.

    Democratic lawmaker attempts to gut California net neutrality bill

    After discussion, Wiener announced that he would be withdrawing the bill as to not force a vote to approve the measure that no longer resembled the one he had passed last month. “The amendments that this committee imposed... are extreme amendments and gut the bill, and that’s why I couldn’t accept that,” Sen. Wiener said. “We all want a strong net neutrality bill going forward.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Jun 2018 @ 3:37pm

      Re:

      “The amendments that this committee imposed... are extreme amendments and gut the bill, and that’s why I couldn’t accept that,” Sen. Wiener said. “We all want a strong net neutrality bill going forward.”

      Well no, clearly all of them do not, some of them want ISP money more and were willing to screw over everyone else to get it.

      Reading that article it would seem that Assemblyman Miguel Santiago(among others I imagine, but he's the only one named) sold out, and sold out big, so if you happen to live in california and he's in your voting area might be a good idea to let him know that he's welcome to work for AT&T(one of his top donors) directly, because you'll be doing what you can to make sure he's not employed by the public come next election.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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