California’s new broadband cop talks tough but takes cash from telecoms lobbyists

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The end of network neutrality and other common carrier rules throws broadband companies back under general consumer protection laws. Those are enforced, as Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai put it, by “our nation’s premier consumer protection cop”, the Federal Trade Commission, and by state attorneys general.

In California, that’s Xavier Becerra, appointed by governor Jerry Brown when Kamala Harris moved to the U.S. senate. He has sole responsibility for anti-trust law enforcement and shares consumer protection duties with county prosecutors.

Becerra raised “alarm bells” before the net neutrality decision and “decried” it afterwards , but has yet to say whether he’s going to pick up the regulatory ball that the FCC dropped. In an email, his press office said “we are reviewing the FCC’s order repealing the Net Neutrality rules and evaluating our legal options”, but didn’t respond to a follow up question about timing.

He’s gained a lot of attention by filing lawsuit after lawsuit against the Trump administration, which is a cheap and easy thing for a democrat to do, but Becerra’s appetite for taking on entrenched interests in California is much harder to discern. On the other hand, he’s hungry for cash from companies he’s supposed to be policing. Companies that were very generous to federal politicians while the action was in Washington, D.C.

According to FollowTheMoney.org, Becerra has already collected payments from AT&T ($1,500), Comcast ($7,500, both directly and funnelled through corporate lobbyists) and Charter ($1,500) for his 2018 election bid.

That’s just the start, since he’s only raised about $2 million for his campaign, which is less than a tenth of what it can cost to win a statewide race in California. So he has a financial incentive to make deep pocketed donors happy. How Becerra balances the responsibilities of his job against the cost of keeping it will determine, as his press office puts it, whether Californians will “continue to have free, open, and equal access to the Internet”.