Tag Archives: netneutrality

A Washington, DC republican gets net neutrality religion

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Another network neutrality bill landed in Washington, D.C. on Monday. What’s interesting about this one is that its author is a republican and it would reinstate the core rules established by the Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission in 2015, but overturned by the Trump administration’s team late last year. At the time, representative Mike Coffman (R – Colorado) urged the FCC to delay repealing net neutrality so federal lawmakers could make the decision instead. The FCC went ahead anyway, so Coffman finally offered his bill in reply.

It sets out the same “bright line rules” as the 2015 FCC decision: no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation, as well as its ban on interconnection charges. Unlike the net neutrality bill working its way through the California legislature, it wouldn’t ban zero rating, though. Coffman also sidesteps the question of whether broadband is a common carrier service: his bill puts broadband into its own category.

As a encore yesterday, Coffman became the first republican in the U.S. house of representatives to sign a petition asking for a vote on a resolution of disapproval that would cancel the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. He’s number 177 on the list. The magic number is 218, a majority of house members. There are plenty of democrats who haven’t signed, although if republican dominoes start to fall, they will probably close ranks too. The resolution was passed by the U.S. senate, with three republican votes. The gap is wider in the house, though. There are 193 democrats, so 25 republicans would have to climb on board. And then president Donald Trump has to sign it.

That’s pretty much the same challenge that Coffman’s bill has to overcome. Its likely first stop will be the subcommittee run by representative Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennesse), who is a reliable friend of AT&T, Comcast and other big monopoly model broadband companies.

Any bets on what’s going to happen?

California’s net neutrality crusade is back on track

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Senators Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) and Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles), and assemblymen Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles) and Rob Bonta (D – Alameda) lined up at a capitol press conference yesterday to announce that all was forgiven: strong net neutrality language would be restored to senate bill 822 and SB 460 would be raised from the dead.

What seemed to unite the four was shared democratic party opposition to the Trump administration and a desire to win federal congressional seats away from republicans in November.

Wiener said during the press conference that the bill would be “restructured”, but all the “key protections” would be in it. He expanded on that pledge in a written statement…

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.

SB 460 will be amended to focus on requiring ISPs that enter into state contracts adhere to net neutrality principles. This provision ensures that public entities only expend taxpayer funds on contracts with ISPs that comply with California’s comprehensive net neutrality protections.

Wiener credited Bonta with bringing the sides together. Bonta refused to go along when Santiago gutted SB 822 in a committee hearing last month. In the past, he’s championed local broadband projects, in contrast to Santiago’s track record as an AT&T lap dog.

With the legislature on summer vacation, the text of what is said to be a restored bill won’t be filed until 6 August 2018. It needs to be read carefully and closely – as Wiener noted as he closed, the game isn’t over. “The telecom and cable companies, they fight hard, they are effective and we are confident they are going to oppose this to the end”, he cautioned.

One net neutrality bill still standing as California legislature preps for summer break

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Senate bill 460 missed a key deadline on Friday and is now technically dead (with the caveat that resurrection is always theoretically possible in the California legislature). It was the weaker of two bills that aimed to restore Internet neutrality rules in California. Its author, senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles), pulled it from an ugly committee hearing two weeks ago and never put it back in play.

That leaves SB 822 as the only net neutrality measure still in the game. It’s sitting with the assembly’s appropriation committee, where legislative leaders will decide – probably in mid-August – whether to release it for a floor vote. That’s assuming its author, senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), doesn’t follow de Leon’s lead and withdraw it too.

Between now and mid-August, Wiener will presumably be negotiating with assemblyman Miguel Santiago, the chair of the assembly’s communications and conveyances committee and an eager recipient of tens of thousands of dollars from AT&T, Charter Communications and other big telecoms companies. He was responsible for gutting SB 822 and, according to common practice at the California capitol, can block any attempts to restore it. Wiener has said that if those fixes
aren’t made, he’ll scrap SB 822 altogether, because, as he told Santiago’s committee, it would be a sham…

The committee amendments do not stop ISPs from blocking, throttling or slowing down websites. They can just do that now at the point of interconnection. This has the same end result as if we had no bill at all. The committee amendments allow the ISPs to create fast lanes, to enhance or speed up favored websites who pay more, while relegating everyone else to a slower traffic lane. This bill allows fast lanes for companies that have enough money to pay for it.

The committee amendments will allow AT&T and other ISPs to throttle an entire class of applications. So for example, AT&T could decide that it is going to throttle all telephony applications, like Skype or Vonage, because those are competing against AT&T’s telephony services. The amendments do not prohibit that. The committee amendments will allow AT&T to engage in corporate self dealing by favoring its massive Time Warner media sites over competitors’ sites, by saying ‘hey, if you use my media sites it doesn’t count against your data, if you use my competitors’, you’re going to have to pay data’.

The committee amendments eliminate the bill’s prohibition against, quote, engaging in deceptive or misleading marketing practices that misrepresent the treatment of Internet traffic. That was deleted in the amendments that you just adopted. The committee amendments allow ISPs to charge websites gatekeeper fees for access to ISP customers. And if they don’t pay, those websites would become invisible to consumers. Again, the whole point of net neutrality is that we get to decide where we go, that the ISPs are not the ones to pick winners and losers. Yet that is exactly what the amended version of the bill, that this committee just voted to adopt, before even hearing the bill, will do.

The assembly appropriations committee doesn’t have a meeting scheduled before the legislature’s month long summer break, which begins on Friday.

Flood of lobbyists drowning California net neutrality bill

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Senate bill 822 is sinking fast in the California legislature. Yesterday, the assembly’s privacy and consumer protection committee approved the gutted version of the bill, which would revive network neutrality rules, that came out of the industry-friendly communications and conveyances committee last week. The bill’s author, senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), said he didn’t support SB 822 in its current form, and would withdraw it if it wasn’t fixed, but he wanted to continue negotiations with assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), the committee chair responsible for torpedoing it.

Santiago muscled fatal amendments through his committee last week, claiming that the bill Wiener drafted went beyond what the Federal Communications Commission did in its 2015 net neutrality order. He was repeating talking points pushed by big, monopoly Internet players like AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Frontier, then and now. Wiener responded at yesterday’s hearing…

There was a misinformation campaign which has been flooding across this building and I’m sure your offices have been inundated with lobbyist after lobbyist spreading inaccurate information about this bill. That misinformation, of course, are the assertions that the bill somehow went beyond the 2015 Obama order. It did not.

AT&T staff lobbyist Bill Devine offered a good example of that kind of misinformation yesterday. He falsely claimed that the repealed 2015 order didn’t apply to traffic exchange agreements between content companies and ISPs. Those types of agreements allow, say, Netflix to interconnect directly with AT&T’s network, upstream from consumers. Interconnections are common and are a key building block of the Internet’s architecture. The 2015 order didn’t directly impose its net neutrality bright line rules – no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation – on interconnection agreements, but it clearly stated that the FCC would “intervene to ensure that they are not harming or threatening to harm the open nature of the Internet”.

The FCC order and the original version of Wiener’s bill necessarily phrased it differently – state laws and federal agency orders are very different things – but both prohibit using interconnection agreements to circumvent net neutrality rules.

Wiener has plenty of time to negotiate with AT&T’s legislative friends. It’s likely that the debate over SB 822 will move behind closed doors until mid-August. That’s the deadline for the assembly’s appropriations committee to act. Typically, that committee keeps bills on ice until the last minute, and either releases them for a floor vote or allows them to die a quiet death, out of public view.

“Fake net neutrality bill” moves ahead in California assembly

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As requested by the bill’s author, the California assembly’s privacy and consumer protection committee approved senate bill 822 without changes this afternoon. Wiener again blasted the amendments made last week by the industry-friendly communications and conveyances committee, saying he had no desire to pass “a fake net neutrality bill”. But if the bill died in today’s committee meeting, it would be game over, and Wiener wants to try to work something out with assemblyman Miguel Santiago, the committee chair who gutted SB 822. Otherwise, Wiener said in a statement “if the bill ultimately remains in its current form, I will withdraw it”.

Weak net neutrality language offered to save California assembly’s “integrity”

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Network neutrality rules have another chance in Sacramento tomorrow. The California assembly’s privacy and consumer protection committee takes up senate bill 822, after it was eviscerated – to use the author’s verb – by the communications and conveyances committee last week. Anything might happen, but the cards on the table now point toward modest and rickety repairs, rather than complete reversal of the damage.

The privacy and consumer protection committee published its staff analysis of the bill, which suggested simplifying it by referencing the now-repealed 2015 net neutrality decision by the Federal Communications Commission, and telling Internet service providers to comply with the rules it laid down – no more, no less. That would be consistent with what the communications and conveyances committee chair, assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), claimed he was doing. He was actually trying to gut SB 822 completely, which he and his wingmen – assemblymen Evan Low (D – Santa Clara) and Eduardo Garcia (D – Riverside) – succeeded in doing, with help from most of the other committee members, republican and democrat alike.

But taking Santiago at his word is a convenient fiction for the privacy and consumer protection committee staff, who diplomatically wrote

In order to preserve the integrity of the institution and the committee hearing process, it is improper for one committee to wholly undo the exact amendments of the prior committee.

Integrity might seem like a poor choice of words in this context. Santiago, Low and Garcia are reliable friends of AT&T, and Wednesday’s committee hearing was an exhibition of pure political muscle.

There are problems with simply incorporating the defunct Obama-era FCC net neutrality decision by reference. It was crafted by then-FCC chair Tom Wheeler, who saw himself as an active referee on the telecoms playing field. Rather than try to write detailed rules, Wheeler laid out three “bright line” principles – no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation – and left the details to be decided by commissioners as the game progressed. For example, zero rating wasn’t explicitly banned, although the FCC was moving in that direction. Although the FCC’s decision is chock full of policy analysis and examples, it’s weak on thou shalts and thou shalt nots. It’s a very poor basis for enforcement by courts that interpret and apply laws, rather than make policy as the FCC does.

So the California legislature has a choice. It can pass an unenforceable bill or it can add enough detail and depth for courts to make meaningful rulings, as SB 822 tried to do. Or it can create its own referee, which seems to appeal to no one.

It’s a safe bet that, as he did last week, SB 822 author, senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), will continue negotiations behind the scenes, right up until tomorrow afternoon’s hearing. It’s far from certain, though, whether he’ll have any more success.

Net neutrality bill thottled by AT&T’s friends in the California legislature

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In an ugly display of legislative muscle yesterday, assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), the chair of the California assembly’s communications and conveyances committee, gutted senate bill 822, the lead network neutrality bill in the California legislature.

The other net neutrality bill, SB 460, was withdrawn by its author, senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles). Although it’s technically still alive, SB 460 is dead as a practical matter (although resurrection is always a possibility at the California capitol). Santiago rejected the deal de Leon reached with Wiener over the weekend. Although no explanation for de Leon’s withdrawal was offered, it’s not hard to connect the dots.

Santiago, who has pocketed tens of thousands of dollars from telecoms companies$8,800 from AT&T alone this session – offered drastic amendments that blasted big holes in SB 822, and called for a vote, over Wiener’s objections.

Seven other committee members, including all four republicans, fell in line with Santiago and voted aye on the amendments: Jay Olbernolte (R – San Bernardino), Eduardo Garcia (D – Riverside), Brian Maienschein (R – San Diego), Devon Mathis (R – Tulare), Jim Patterson (R – Fresno), Freddie Rodriguez (D – San Bernardino), Sabrina Cervantes (D – Riverside).

Wiener shot back at Santiago…

What the committee just did was outrageous…the amendments that the committee just adopted eviscerate the bill. It’s no longer a real net neutrality bill. It is astounding to me that the committee would, and that you would ask the committee, to take that vote before hearing my presentation, before hearing public comment, before hearing support and opposition for amendments that were issued less than 12 hours ago. So I will state for the record: I think what just happened, I think was a violation of assembly rules but even if it wasn’t it’s fundamentally unfair.

Nevertheless, the committee moved ahead and considered the now-gutted version of SB 822.

For the next couple of hours, arguments for and against reinstating network neutrality rules followed a predictable path. Supporters of SB 822 urged the committee to reinstate the original language. Opponents, led by AT&T, said amended or not, they didn’t support it.

Wiener then tried to take SB 822 off the table, saying “I don’t want a vote today on this bill”.

Santiago rejected the request, citing a legislative deadline that comes at the end of next week. It was a phony excuse – as committee chair, he could have brought the bill back for another hearing well before then. Garcia moved for a vote, and assemblyman Evan Low (D – Santa Clara) seconded him. Both are also reliable friends of AT&T. Garcia carried a bill creating a $300 million piggy bank for telcos last year and Low pushed to allow them to rip out rural copper networks a couple of years ago.

Then came the second and final vote. Olbernolte and Mathis flipped and voted no. Patterson effectively did the same by abstaining, as did Rob Bonta (D – Alameda) and Chris Holden (D – Los Angeles). But Low, Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D – Los Angeles) and Sharon Quirk-Silva (D – Orange) added their support and the amended – eviscerated – version of SB 822 was approved. Its next stop is the assembly’s privacy and consumer protection committee.

Correction: Sabrina Cervantes (D – Riverside) recorded an aye vote for SB 822. The post above was corrected and updated, per the posted vote tally.

California assembly committee guts and kills net neutrality bills

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One net neutrality bill is dead and another is critically wounded after a hearing this morning in the California legislature. The industry-friendly communications and conveyances committee adopted a long list of amendments to senate bill 822 that “eviscerate” it, as its author, senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) put it. The committee’s chair, assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), who has cashed tens of thousands of dollars worth of checks from telephone and cable companies, rammed the changes through over Wiener’s objections.

SB 460, a weaker bill carried by senator Kevin de Leon, was pulled from the agenda after Santiago nixed a deal to combine it with SB 822.

It’s a serious set back for net neutrality advocates, but not necessarily fatal. SB 460 is probably dead, but the language in SB 822 is a long way from being final. The next step is a hearing in the assembly privacy and consumer protection committee, which should come in the next week and a half.

Deal reached to combine California net neutrality bills

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The two network neutrality revival bills moving through the California legislature are now one. Sorta. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times by Jazmine Ulloa, senators Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) and Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles) agreed yesterday to partner up on their net neutrality bills – senate bills 822 and 460, respectively. Wiener will carry the core net neutrality regulations – no blocking, throttling, paid prioritisation or zero rating – while de Leon’s bill will focus on the simpler task of requiring state and local agencies to only buy Internet service from companies that follow those rules.

They also agreed to bind the two bills together. Both have to be passed by the legislature and signed by governor Jerry Brown in order for either one to take effect. It’s both or nothing.

According to the article, the two senators decided it was time to close ranks…

Wiener said combining forces was necessary to reinstate net neutrality in California amid heavy lobbying in Sacramento from major internet service providers, “playing the bills against each other with the goal of killing both.”

It’s a win-win solution for them. Wiener has done the heavy lifting on the issue, crafting and re-crafting his bill’s language so it would withstand the inevitable court challenges from telecoms companies. De Leon, on the other hand, has an almost certainly doomed November election campaign against U.S. senator and fellow democrat Diane Feinstein to worry about. His bill is not as well written and he’s been largely silent on the issue for the past few months. Wiener gets the legislative win; de Leon scores at least some points with democratic voters.

The amended bills haven’t been published yet. It’ll be important to read the changes carefully. The California assembly’s communications and conveyance committee is scheduled to vote on the bills tomorrow. Standard practice is for committee chairs, in this case assemblyman Miguel Santiago, and their staff to negotiate changes beforehand. Santiago’s committee has been kind to industry lobbyists in the past, and could try to weaken SB 822, as senator Ben Hueso, chair of the senate energy, utilities and communications committee appeared to do when his committee reviewed it.

AT&T holds minorities, poor hostage in California net neutrality battle

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The California assembly’s communications and conveyances committee hasn’t published its analysis of network neutrality legislation yet, but it’s getting plenty of analytical help from AT&T. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has uncovered another bespoke white paper that’s circulating behind closed doors in Sacramento. It’s authored by a hired gun economist and distributed by Cal Innovates, a lobbying front for AT&T, Uber and several small companies and non-profits.

The piece takes aim at the ban on zero rating proposed by senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) in senate bill 822. That’s a technique major Internet service providers use to give content – particularly video, that they own and/or sell – an advantage over their competitors by leveraging their control over the bandwidth their customers buy. If, for example, you watch AT&T’s video via your AT&T mobile connection, it doesn’t count against your monthly data cap. If you watch Netflix, though, it does.

The paper claims that “low income and minority Californians enjoy disproportionately greater benefits from zero-rated data”. Low income Californians tend to rely solely on smartphones for Internet access because, well, they don’t have a lot of money. But zero rating, according to EFF, produces the the exact opposite of what AT&T’s lobbying front claims

Users who depend on their wireless device for Internet access are highly likely to pay overage fees when they try to take advantage of the full, open web. These overage fees are part of a scheme to force wireless Internet users to only use products and services that the wireless ISP has exempted from their own arbitrary data caps—and to punish users when they stray from those products and services. The CTIA’s own study confirms that if they can drive Internet users to their chosen zero rated products to the detriment of potentially superior services.

In other words, any harm is the result of AT&T’s deliberate marketing and network management tactics. They’re telling the legislature: screw us with net neutrality and we’ll screw minorities and the poor.

The communications and conveyances committee is scheduled to consider SB 822, and a weaker net neutrality revival bill, SB 460, carried by senator (and U.S. senate candidate) Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles), on Wednesday. The committee has a history of accommodating big telcos and cable companies. We’ll soon know whether history will repeat itself.