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.
We just announced that my #NetNeutrality bill, #SB822, will have its strong protections reinstated. It will be the strongest net neutrality law in the U.S. I want to thank Senator @kdeleon & Assemblymembers @SantiagoAD53 & @RobBonta for collaborating with us to make this happen. pic.twitter.com/Cv2I8R8EGY
— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) July 5, 2018
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.