After Backlash To AT&T Chicanery, California Salvages Tough Net Neutrality Law

from the turnabout dept

As we recently noted, California was on the cusp of passing the toughest net neutrality law in the nation, a bill the EFF declared to be the "gold standard" for state-level rules. But late last month AT&T and Comcast lobbyists descended on California to scuttle the effort, convincing California Assemblyman Miguel Santiago to neuter the most important portions of the proposal. Santiago, no stranger to AT&T campaign cash, rushed through a series of last-minute amendments behind closed doors without providing the bill's backer or the public a chance to chime in.

But Santiago quickly felt the ire of net neutrality activists and internet users, including a new crowdfunded billboard intended to shame Santiago. Lo and behold, lawmakers including Santiago and the original bill's backer (State Senator Scott Wiener) held a press conference today to announce that they'd come to an agreement, and would be largely restoring the bill to its original form.

Originally, Santiago managed to successfully kill language policing zero rating, or ISP efforts to impose arbitrary usage caps then exempt their own content while still penalizing competitors. The previous FCC had found AT&T and Verizon's use of such limits to be anti-competitive.

Santiago also heeded ISP lobbyist calls to eliminate language policing interconnection. You'll recall a few years ago Netflix traffic slowed to a crawl after ISPs began intentionally letting peering points congest -- allegedly in a bid to kill things like settlement-free peering and drive up costs for transit and content competitors. Those behaviors magically ceased when the FCC passed rules policing this behavior, but with the federal rules now dead, it's left to states to try and keep ISPs on their best behavior.

According to state leaders, all of those provisions (plus a component blocking ISPs from "double dipping" via erroneous "access charges") have been restored to the bill in the wake of public pressure. From a fact sheet I received today from legislators:

"Under this agreement, SB 822 will contain strong net neutrality protections and prohibit blocking websites, speeding up or slowing down websites or whole classes of applications such as video, and charging websites for access to an ISP's subscribers or for fast lanes to those subscribers. ISPs will also be prohibited from circumventing these protections at the point where data enters their networks and from charging access fees to reach ISP customers. SB 822 will also ban ISPs from violating net neutrality by not counting the content and websites they own against subscribers' data caps. This kind of abusive and anti-competitive "zero rating," which leads to lower data caps for everyone, would be prohibited, while "zero-rating" plans that don't harm consumers are not banned."

At the moment this is the policy equivalent of a pinky swear, since state officials tell me the full text of the bill won't be released until sometime in early August. The California legislature will then have until August 31 to pass the bill and send it to Governor Jerry Brown for signing. If passed with the bill's most important measures intact, that would mean the entire west coast would be protected by state-level rules in the wake of previous bills passed in both Washington State and Oregon. That's obviously not the sort of end result ISPs were hoping for when they successfully killed federal rules.

ISPs have threatened to sue any states that try to pass net neutrality rules after convincing the FCC to include some legally-dubious language in the repeal that attempts to thwart states from protecting consumers. And while the restoration of the original bill is promising, AT&T, Comcast and Verizon lobbying influence runs deep, and they have another month to try to stop California from respecting public opinion and standing up to entrenched telecom monopolies with rules preventing them from abusing the obvious lack of real competition in most broadband markets.


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  • identicon
    Will B., 5 Jul 2018 @ 1:53pm

    In b4 Bennett finds a way to twist this into pretzels and fill it full of straw.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 6:49pm

      Re:

      Dick hasn't been seen in a while, signed in or out.

      I suspect he's been deployed on full-time damage control between Pai's legs.

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

  • identicon
    David, 5 Jul 2018 @ 3:39pm

    Good.

    This warrants more bribes, I mean more time for debates.

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

    • identicon
      Iggy, 5 Jul 2018 @ 4:58pm

      Re: Good.

      This nonsense wont end until internet comes from non-profit sources. Otherwise, we will see more mergers and lobbying to lock down markets. If one administration slows it down, they'll just wait for another one.

      Kudos to all the cities which made internet a utility. They lead the nation in speeds, reliability, and customer service.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 5 Jul 2018 @ 4:55pm

    Interview

    I think Techdirt should do an interview with Scott Wiener. Awesome that he was able to get this crap straightened out.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Jul 2018 @ 5:23pm

    Keep that (metaphorical) axe raised

    While it's nice that public pressure was able to force AT&T stooge Santiago to back down, history would seem to indicate that it's not over yet. As such it's important to keep the pressure on until after the text is made public and a vote is cast, lest he and any others decide to stick a knife in the public's back by neutering the bill at the last second.

    Again.

    Whichever way it goes however it would still probably be a good idea to give him the boot come next election, as he's made clear that he has no problem selling out the public in favor of his 'donors', and if he's done it before odds are good that he'd do it again as soon as he thinks he can get away with it. Gotta keep those donors happy and the money coming in after all.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 6:59pm

      Re: Keep that (metaphorical) axe raised

      " give him the boot come next election"

      yeah - if left in office, he will eventually build a thick skin like that scondral Pai.

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

  • icon
    UniKyrn (profile), 5 Jul 2018 @ 5:59pm

    No, those cables/fibers are built on public right-of-way land. "No company suing a local government, city or state, may have it's contract renewed. Any infrastructure previously built reverts to local ownership."

    The first place that makes that claim, makes it stick, watch others follow.

    And watch NSAT&T, and the rest, have strokes.

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

    • identicon
      David, 5 Jul 2018 @ 11:16pm

      Re:

      No, those cables/fibers are built on public right-of-way land. "No company suing a local government, city or state, may have it's contract renewed. Any infrastructure previously built reverts to local ownership."

      The first place that makes that claim, makes it stick, watch others follow.

      It will go the way of the Minux. Money is like water. At sufficient pressure levels, nothing won't cave.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 10:54am

    Re: ISPs have threatened to sue any states

    There is a point here that really needs to be made. Which is that if 12 consumers had the violations of their rights enumerated and clearly explained to them in a court room, the question wouldn't be whether ISP's could overturn the law. The question is whether the ISP's could make their argument without having their executive staff indited for a million counts of felony wiretapping, racketeering, and election tampering.

    The simple fact is that all of the bad things they do requires sophisticated equipment. And all of that equipment comes with users manuals. And almost all of those manuals are available for download online. So it isn't like there is any difficulty in figuring out what they're doing with other peoples interpersonal communications without consent. More to the point, they are interfering with interpersonal communications related to state communications, not just personal communications. And they are doing it often with foreign sourced equipment that is frequently patched without any kind of code review. Which is to say that espionage charges are also on the table.

    So if they want to throw a sueball, and talk about their "rights". go right ahead. Because the purpose of this legislation, serves no other purpose but to establish the defense of civil rights. More particularly the defense of the civil rights of human persons, against violations therof by statutory incantations of personhood that are procedurally unconstitutional.

    It could very well be the most important civil rights case in the past 30 years. And with the CA government funding it, it would be a sight to see.

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


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