AT&T's attempt to rewrite California law shredded by a higher power

28 May 2016 by Steve Blum
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Wrong day to be a shark.

By the formal rules of the California assembly, AT&T’s attempt to reboot its monopoly without regulatory constraints is dead. Yesterday, the assembly’s appropriations committee took assembly bill 2395 out of legislative limbo and sat on it. That means the bill didn’t clear the committee by the official deadline – also yesterday – and can’t move forward without extraordinary maneuvers by legislative leadership.

That’s not likely to happen. The decision to stop AB 2395 instead of keeping it alive would have been made by legislative leaders in the first place. It’s a rapid and stunning reversal of a nitro-fueled bulldozer of a bill that was on the fast track to the governor’s desk. Just a couple of weeks ago, one member of the committee told me that AB 2395 was a done deal, and there would be no stopping it in the assembly.

Looking back, the first clue was probably Wednesday’s appropriations committee, when the assemblyman carrying the bill for AT&T – Evan Low (D – Silicon Valley) – didn’t show up and speak for it, and AT&T sent a third string lobbyist to defend it. At the time, I pegged it as big money arrogance. It looks like that call was 180 degrees wrong. It seems likelier now that Low and AT&T were just cutting their losses.

What changed the game? I’d put my bet on the Communications Workers of America, the primary union representing AT&T employees. Union reps were out in force at the first committee hearing in April, but failed to stop it. Rural interests and consumer groups opposed it too, but once CWA mobilised labor allies the hard mathematical reality of California politics prevailed. AT&T is a big money player, but organised labor is even bigger.