Network neutrality legislation moved ahead in the California senate yesterday, but it’s not clear what exactly it says. The senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee worked over senate bill 822, before endorsing it on a party line vote and sending it on to the judiciary committee. As is common practice in Sacramento, the committee didn’t vote on the published text of the bill, carried by senator Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco), but conceptually approved it, based on unpublished amendments negotiated secretly on Monday, which will be further modified by changes yet to be dictated by committee chair Ben Hueso (D – San Diego).
At the end of a lengthy hearing, Hueso, a reliable friend of cable and telephone company lobbyists, looked at Weiner and said “there are some little things we have to fix with them and we’ll work with your office on clarifying what that is”.
“What little things?” Weiner asked.
“The mock up”, Hueso said, referring to the draft that Weiner thought the committee had agreed to support.
“You mean like typos or…”, Weiner replied.
“Potentially”, Hueso said with a low chuckle – the sort of nervous laugh you might make when a cop pulls you over and asks if you’ve been drinking. “Nothing major”.
A story by Jon Brodkin in Ars Technica offers some insight into what those little things might be. He obtained copies of unsigned “bill analyses” given to lawmakers by AT&T and the lobbying front used by Comcast and Charter Communications, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association.
That’s another common practice in Sacramento – industry lobbyists will submit anodyne comments for public consumption, and then fire broadsides at legislators behind closed doors, who are very mindful of the millions of dollars they collectively receive from those companies. Also behind closed doors.
However it turns out, it’s clear that the language in SB 822 is moving in the direction urged by telephone and cable company lobbyists. A committee analysis was published over the weekend – something Hueso is in a position to control – and it urged changes friendly to those industry interests. Based on the back and forth at yesterday’s hearing, it seems that the final product will be even friendlier.