Flood of lobbyists drowning California net neutrality bill

by Steve Blum • , ,

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 He falsely claimed that the repealed 2015 order didn’t apply to traffic exchange agreements between content companies and ISPs.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.