Tag Archives: ab375

Charter, Comcast tell FTC to kill California broadband laws

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Comcast and Charter Communications want the Federal Trade Commission to preempt California’s data privacy law, and any other state laws regarding broadband service. In comments filed last week, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which serves as a Washington, D.C. lobbying front for Comcast, Charter and other cable companies, ask the FTC to tell state lawmakers and officials that they can’t enforce broadband service rules beyond what federal regulators think is appropriate (h/t to Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica for the pointer)…

The FTC should ensure that the Internet is subject to uniform, consistent federal regulations, including by issuing guidance explicitly setting forth that inconsistent state and local requirements are preempted…

California’s recently enacted California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 imposes numerous requirements that differ from, and even conflict with, federal law.174 Moreover, a patchwork of state-level rules applying only to BIAS providers would undercut existing federal policy basing enforcement on what information is collected and how it is used, rather than on who is collecting the information. Any FTC guidance to state entities on the need to ensure consistency with FTC and FCC policy and precedent in the Internet arena thus should cover privacy and data protection issues as well.

NCTA argues, falsely, that the market for broadband service is “substantially” and “increasingly”. That’s true in a few isolated areas, but overall the trend is toward greater monopolisation of the Internet service industry. The minimum speed level necessary to take advantage of what NCTA calls “a wide array of Internet-delivered video offerings” continues to rise. More and more, cable operators are the sole source of broadband service that meets contemporary needs.

Charter and Comcast are preparing a new line of attack against state-level privacy and network neutrality rules. If, as some legal experts believe, the Federal Communications Commission has taken itself out of the broadband regulation business, then the FTC is their best hope to kill those laws. Particularly California’s new consumer privacy law and its pending resurrection of network neutrality standards.

California legislature to decide privacy, Internet commerce bills

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Consumer privacy, police surveillance, online retailing, bots and social media were all targets of bills introduced this year in the California legislature. One major bill already passed, a couple are dead and the rest are queued up for a decision this week, as lawmakers prepare to finish up the 2018 session on Friday.

Assembly bill 375 established strict consumer data privacy rules. It was signed into law by the governor earlier this year. It’s being tweaked, though. Senate bill 1121 exempts some medical, financial and driving record information that’s already regulated by federal and/or state law. It also allows credit reporting agencies to continue to use personal information, whether or not consumers consent, to the extent permitted by federal law. It makes other changes, mostly regarding how the law is enforced.

As far as I can tell, the amendments are technical. But SB 1121 should put everyone on notice, too: the legislature can and will change California’s new data privacy law. Given the influence that lobbyists and their cash payments to lawmakers have in Sacramento, future changes may not be so benign.

Other bills introduced this year include…

  • AB 1906 and SB 327 – aimed at the Internet of things, these two, linked bills require passwords and other security features on Internet-connected devices. Awaiting floor votes in the senate and assembly, respectively. Each will have to go back to its “house of origin” for concurrence votes on amendments made along the way.
  • AB 2167 – defines information gathered by ingestible sensors that collect or send information about an individual, and linked apps and devices, as protected medical information. On the senate floor, with assembly concurrence needed.
  • AB 2511 – requires merchants to “take reasonable steps to ensure that the purchaser is of legal age” of anyone who might purchase or view age restricted products or services. It was originally targeted only at online sellers, but now includes all businesses. The range of products and services covered was narrowed, too. Waiting for a floor vote in the senate, then would go back to the assembly for concurrence.
  • AB 2935 – adds privacy protections to health monitoring programs, online and otherwise. Would have had implications for fitness and athletic social media, such as Strava. It died in a senate committee.
  • SB 1001 – requires bots – computer programs that mimic people, used by companies to chat with customers – to identify themselves as such. Only applies to websites that get 10 million visitors a month. On the assembly floor now, with senate concurrence also needed.
  • SB 1186 – required local governments to disclose the types and uses of law enforcement surveillance technology. Quietly killed in the appropriations committee by assembly leadership.
  • SB 1424 – formerly a far reaching attempt to police free speech on the Internet, it was neutered as it moved through the legislative process and now just calls for the California attorney general to study “the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms”. If someone donates the money to do it. Awaits an assembly floor vote and senate concurrence.

California consumer privacy law, online and off, now on the books

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Californians will have control over the way their personal information is used by businesses, including online platforms. Probably. Governor Jerry Brown signed assembly bill 375 into law, after it was approved by the state senate and assembly in whirlwind fashion yesterday. According to the analysis prepared by staff for the assembly privacy and communications committee – which is chaired by the bill’s author, assemblyman Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park) – consumers will gain…

The right to know what [personal information (PI)] is being collected about them and whether their PI is being sold and to whom; the right to access their PI; the right to delete PI collected from them; the right to opt-out or opt-in to the sale of their PI, depending on age of the consumer; and the right to equal service and price, even if they exercise such right.

AB 375 was briefly in the spotlight last year, when it was turned into an online privacy bill, only to be killed by tech and telecoms lobbyists. Its demise behind closed doors prompted a successful petition drive to put a tough consumer privacy initiative on the November ballot. Which scared those same big tech and telecoms companies. For two reasons: they would have to spend millions of dollars trying to defeat it, and if enacted by the voters, the legislature wouldn’t be able to change it.

That gave Chau an opening to resurrect his bill, and cut a deal with the initiative’s backers. If the legislature passed a sufficiently stringent consumer privacy bill, the backers – who faced an equally expensive campaign – would declare victory and withdraw the ballot measure. Yesterday was the withdrawal deadline, the legislature met it and the initiative was formally pulled.

The new law takes effect 18 months from now, in January 2020. That’s forever in political terms, though. The legislature will have plenty of opportunity and lobbyists will offer plenty of cash encouragement to water down the new law. They’ll want to do it as quietly as possible. It’s worth watching, if only to make sure it’s as noisy as possible.

Internet privacy bill rises from the dead at California capitol

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California lawmakers have another shot at creating strong data privacy rules. Assembly bill 375, authored by assemblyman Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park), was originally aimed at Internet service providers. It would have reinstated ISP privacy rules that were scrapped by the republican majority on the Federal Communications Commission. It died last year after legislative leaders bowed to back door pressure and “dirty tricks” from ISPs, like AT&T and Comcast, and Silicon Valley’s big online players, like Google and Facebook.

But with angst over Facebook’s epic face plant and other data breaches reaching a fever pitch, attention turned to how companies – of all kinds – collect, keep and use data about and belonging to consumers. A petition drive appears to have collected enough signatures to get a sweeping online data protection law on the November ballot. To head that off, Chau and senator Robert Hertzberg (D – Van Nuys) rewrote AB 375 and, on Friday, put it on a fast track for potential approval this week.

As rewritten, AB 375 meets the needs of the initiative’s backers. It would give consumers the right to ask companies what kind of personal data they’re collecting, what they’re doing with it and who they’re sharing it with. Consumers could also tell online businesses to delete information and prevent them from sharing or selling personal information to others. Those backers will scrap it if the legislature approves AB 375 and governor Jerry Brown signs it into law by Thursday (the deadline for pulling the initiative).

According to a story by Taryn Luna in the Sacramento Bee, avoiding a ballot measure will also avoid a massively expensive campaign, fuelled by money from the big incumbent ISPs and online platforms that oppose it…

[Alastair Mactaggart, the main proponent of the initiative], who has dished out $3.5 million to support his own cause by paying signature gatherers to qualify the initiative, expected his opponents to spend as much as $100 million on the campaign against the Consumer Privacy Act before the Nov. 6 election. As of this week, the opponents of the initiative had given nearly $2.2 million to tank it.

You can count on those same companies to flood Sacramento with lobbyists this week, just as they did last week to oppose network neutrality bills.

Internet, telecoms legislation introduced in Sacramento, but not all cards are on the table

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A handful of substantive telecoms and Internet services bills and a stack of placeholders were introduced in the California legislature by last Friday. That was deadline for new bills, although it’s largely a formality – any of the placeholders (or the substantive bills) can get gutted, amended and turned into anything at all, right up to the end of the session in August.

Assemblyman Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park) is taking another run at Internet privacy, although in a more limited way than last year. Assembly bill 2511 would tighten privacy requirements for websites – social media, particularly – that serve minors, and AB 2935 would do the same for health monitoring services. Broader legislation could come later, though.

Social media gets a call out in two other bills. AB 1950 by assemblyman Marc Levine (D – Marin County) would prohibit bot-driven advertising or clicks, and AB 3169 by assemblyman James Gallagher (R – Butte County) would ban censorship by social media platforms or search engines “on the basis of on the basis of the political affiliation or political viewpoint of that content”, or “removing or manipulating content” from search results.

AB 1906, by assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin (D – Ventura County), would require an Internet–connected device to have password protection – in other words, you’d have to authorise your Alexa device before it could start eavesdropping on you.

Lifeline telecoms programs – which can include broadband service – would be less restricted under AB 3111, authored by assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D – Imperial County). Right now, only one person per household can receive lifeline subsidies, which is a problem if the service is delivered via a mobile phone, rather than a wireline connection that can be shared by everyone. AB 3111 would allow different people living at the same address to receive lifeline service, although the one account per family restriction would stay in place. How that distinction would be policed by the California Public Utilities Commission isn’t clear, though.

So far, there’s been no move to introduce a new version of senate bill 649, which would have opened up city and county property to wireless operators, at nominal, below-market-value rental rates. It was vetoed by governor Jerry Brown because it went a bit too far. You can expect to see similar language slipped into a bill by wireless lobbyists in the coming months. Stay tuned.

Comcast asks FCC for privilege without responsibility

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Comcast has joined Verizon in pushing the Federal Communications Commission to override state and local laws that might affect their business. In a required notice filed after a private meeting with FCC chair Ajit Pai’s top staffers, a lawyer for Comcast said they urged the FCC to overturn its 2015 decision to regulate broadband as a common carrier service, and to make sure that state and local governments didn’t try to pick up the slack…

At the meeting, we reiterated Comcast’s support for restoring its prior classification of broadband Internet access service (“BIAS”) as an interstate information service and reversing the 2015 decision to classify BIAS as a [common carrier] telecommunications service…

We also emphasized that the Commission’s order in this proceeding should include a clear, affirmative ruling that expressly confirms the primacy of federal law with respect to BIAS as an interstate information service, and that preempts state and local efforts to regulate BIAS either directly or indirectly.

Comcast and Verizon are worried about state initiatives like California’s assembly bill 375, which would have restored consumer privacy rules scrapped at the national level. It was eventually brought down by an all out attack by telecoms lobbyists who control millions of dollars of payments made to legislators in Sacramento. But the effort will, in all likelihood, be made again next year, and Comcast wants to head it off.

But it’s about more than just a few bills. If – when – the current FCC follows through on its promise to scrap broadband’s common carrier status, Internet service providers, like Comcast, will lose their existing exemption from consumer protection laws at both the state and federal level. Although it’s under challenge in a federal appeals court, that exemption basically puts the FCC in charge of regulating most aspects of common carrier telecoms services. Even the Federal Trade Commission can’t set business rules for common carriers.

Comcast likes the advantages, such as immunity from state and federal consumer laws, that come with a common carrier label. But it doesn’t want the common carrier obligations, such as net neutrality rules or FCC oversight, that follow. It would be reckless if the FCC accommodates them.

Swat away state broadband laws, Verizon tells FCC

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Verizon doesn’t like it when states pass laws that affect its business, and now it wants the Federal Communications Commission to simply sweep those annoying rules away with a single, blanket preemption.

In a white paper filed with the FCC, Verizon points to ongoing efforts in California, and several other states, to re-impose Internet privacy rules that were overturned earlier this year by the federal government. It also fears that states will try to reinstate net neutrality requirements, and other common carrier obligations that the FCC is likely to scrap in the coming months.

The white paper offers excruciatingly detailed arguments about why the FCC has the authority to take any and all broadband regulation out of states’ hands, but it boils down to treating it as a purely interstate service…

The Commission can ensure nationwide uniformity for interstate services by preempting state and local laws that interfere with its exclusive jurisdiction over such services and are inconsistent with federal policies for those services, including federal polices providing for less regulation. The Commission has a long history of setting a deregulatory policy for an interstate service and preempting state and local laws that threaten to impede that policy, and courts have consistently upheld these exercises of the Commission’s preemptive power.

This latest move at the FCC is running parallel with an overhaul of wireless permitting rules, that’s also expected to result in less state and local discretion regarding issuing permits for building cell towers or other wireless infrastructure.

Verizon wants the FCC to include this overarching preemption in what is expected to be a reversal of its 2015 order classifying broadband as a common carrier service, which could come as soon as next month. Even if this kind of blanket preemption isn’t rolled into the common carrier decision, though, the concept will find willing ears among commissioners. It’s a good bet that we haven’t seen the last of it.

Silicon Valley joined with telcos, cable to defeat California privacy law, says EFF

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An unholy alliance between big tech interests and big telecoms companies succeeded in spiking an Internet privacy bill in Sacramento this year, according to the Electronic Freedom Foundation. In a blog post, the EFF’s Ernesto Falcon says that “Google and Facebook locked arms with AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast to oppose” assembly bill 375…

How do we know? Because we were on the ground in Sacramento in September to witness every last-minute dirty trick to stop A.B. 375 from moving forward. But there is one positive outcome: ISP and Silicon Valley lobbyists have played their hand. When these tactics are deployed at the last minute by an army of lobbyists, false information is extremely hard to counter by citizens and consumer groups who lack special access to legislators. But over time legislators (and their constituents) learn the truth – and we’ll make sure they will remember it when this legislation comes back around in 2018.

Falcon’s post has links to a couple of anonymous “fact sheets” given to lawmakers. One takes on the EFF’s positions directly; the other is a classic piece of scaremongering that would be laughable if legislators didn’t lap it up like a dog going after a dropped ice cream cone. Preventing ISPs from selling your browsing history or medical records is going to lead to terrorist attacks? Come on.

He’s right in thinking that the balance might tip next year. Democratic legislators have to walk a fine line between the national party’s opposition to Trump administration policies, such as rolling back privacy protections, and the telco and cable agenda that’s backed by truckloads of cash contributions. They managed to finesse it this year by sliding AB 375 into the clubbable senate rules committee, where it could die a quiet death out of public view. If public activism increases next year, the ending could be quite different.

Big telecom cash and influence buys three big wins in California legislature

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The California legislature slipped past its midnight deadline last night, and kept working, or not, for a couple hours into the morning. From a broadband perspective, it didn’t make much difference. Assembly bill 375 never made it to a floor vote in the senate, let alone to the necessary final vote in the assembly.

As a result, California will not enact Internet privacy rules that were axed earlier this year by congressional republicans and the Trump administration. It was the second victory of the night and the third in two days for big telecoms companies that sent a monster wave of lobbyists and cash contributions washing over senators and assembly members.

AB 1665 passed by a wide margin – 68 to 8 was the final count – earlier in the evening. It lowers California’s broadband speed standard to 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up and, in effect, gives $300 million to AT&T and Frontier to make minimal upgrades that will hit that pitiful target. On Thursday, legislators narrowly approved senate bill 649, which gives telecoms companies the automatic right to attach wireless equipment to publicly owned infrastructure, like street lights or traffic signals, for a sweetheart rental rate of $250 per year, far below market value.

It’s now up to governor Brown to decide if AB 1665 and SB 649 will become law.

One welcome change this year was a new deadline for amending legislation. As a result, yesterday was less hectic, if no more productive, than previous end-of-the-session pushes. Last November, California voters approved proposition 54, which requires lawmakers to post bills on the Internet at least 72 hours before a final vote. Earlier in the session, there was some weaseling around with what that means, but as time ticked down there was no avoiding its clear meaning: nothing changed after Tuesday night. Whether you like what’s in a bill or not, at least you had a chance to read it and respond accordingly before it became law. Or not.

Big telecom money sets up clean sweep of broadband bills in Sacramento

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One key broadband bill is on its way to governor Brown’s desk, another is likely to follow and a third is heading for oblivion. That result will be a trifecta for telephone and cable companies who came to the table with deep pockets full of campaign cash and even longer arms to hand it out.

Senate bill 649 won narrow, bipartisan approval in the senate yesterday. The tally was 22 yes votes – 21 were needed – with 10 noes and 8 abstentions. Instead of trying for a rational makeover of the way local governments make decisions on where wireless facilities can be installed, lawmakers opted for a multi-million dollar gift to major campaign contributors telephone and cable companies. SB 649 streamlines some permit processes – too much or too little is open to debate – but also requires local governments to rent space on street lights, traffic signals and other “vertical” infrastructure they own at a giveaway price that is, in many cases, hundreds, even thousands, of dollars below market value. The assembly passed it with five votes to spare on Wednesday and now the senate has concurred.

After skating through the senate on Wednesday, assembly bill 1665 is queued up for a final vote in the assembly today. It reinstates a tax on phone bills, puts $300 million for infrastructure subsidies into the California Advanced Services Fund and then games the rules to make it virtually impossible for independent projects to tap into it. On the other hand incumbents, like AT&T and Frontier, get privileged access to the money. To make the gift even sweeter, California’s minimum broadband standard is lowered to 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, relieving AT&T and Frontier of the inconvenience of upgrading 1990s vintage DSL systems.

Hope is fading fast for assembly bill 375. It would write Internet privacy rules into California law. Democrats in Washington, D.C. slammed congressional republicans and the Trump administration for scrapping the federal privacy regulations that AB 375 mirrors. Which makes it difficult for the democratic supermajority in the California legislature to publicly oppose the bill. But it’s even harder for them to approve it, since doing so would run counter to the wheelbarrow loads of money advice they get from big telephone and cable companies. AB 375 is stuck in the clubbable senate rules committee where it can die a lonely death.

Lawmakers have until 11:59 p.m. tonight to act. After that, Brown has 30 days to either veto or approve any of the bills that reach his desk