Tag Archives: netneutrality

Where in the world is Miguel Santiago?


The legislative clock is ticking down in Sacramento, and there’s been no action on either senate bill 822 or 460. Those are the Siamese twin bills that would restore network neutrality rules in California.

Both are sitting in the assembly’s communications and conveyances committee. The chair, assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), hasn’t scheduled a meeting and his staff hasn’t prepared the obligatory analysis yet, despite a Friday deadline for committee action.

Both bills were trashed in Santiago’s committee in June. He eviscerated SB 822, as senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), the bill’s author, put it at the time. Senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles), who’s carrying SB 460, withdrew it before Santiago could work his magic.

He was properly slammed for his actions. Assisted by two of his fellow committee members – assemblymen Eduardo Garcia (D – Imperial) and Evan Low (D – Santa Clara) – Santiago faithfully does the work that AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast, Charter Communications and other big incumbents assign him.

Usually, his service to telco and cable interests goes unnoticed. The geeky details of telecoms policy doesn’t attract general media coverage, and it’s a safe bet that his, or anyone else’s, constituents have more pressing concerns, like jobs, schools, housing prices or public safety.

But net neutrality is different. Public reaction and party politics forced Santiago to back down. New versions of SB 822 and SB 460 were filed last week, with Santiago listed as a co-author, and were sent back to Santiago’s committee for a formal blessing.

Both bills need to pass for either to take effect. Friday is the deadline for Santiago’s committee and the assembly appropriations committee to act. Which in practice means Thursday because legislators like three day weekends.

Missing the deadline doesn’t mean certain death. But it does mean more parliamentary maneuvers will be necessary, which also opens up more windows of opportunities for telco and cable lobbyists to press more cash into legislators’ hands their case as the real deadline – 31 August 2018 – approaches and attention spans shorten.

California net neutrality bills back on track


The new versions of senate bills 822 and 460 were filed in Sacramento yesterday, and appear to once again be a legitimate revival of network neutrality, as promised last month.

SB 822, authored by senator Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco), is the big kahuna. The bill reinstates the three bright line rules first adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015, when it had a democratic majority, and then repealed in 2017 after republicans took control: no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation.

Zero rating – not counting certain content against subscribers’ monthly data caps – is also on the list of banned practices, unless its done across the board. It would be okay for AT&T to say all data used to watch video is zero rated, but not for it to limit the freebie to its own content, for example movies produced by Warner Brothers or distributed by DirecTv.

There’s language that attempts to close loopholes. ISPs couldn’t erect upstream toll gates for content or application providers, or deliver an in-house service over a subscriber’s connection and claim it wasn’t coming via the Internet. In other words, the bandwidth you buy is your bandwidth.

One change that’s been made is to draw a distinction between fixed – wireless or wireline – and mobile Internet service. At this point, the same rules would apply to both kinds of service. If it was done to limit the damage done by the inevitable court challenges, then it’s a good thing. It needs to be closely watched, though, to make sure that the change isn’t an invitation for the army of lobbyists fighting the bill to fiddle with it.

SB 460, by senator Kevin de Leon, would require state and local agencies to only buy Internet services from ISPs that abide by SB 822’s rules.

The bills are tied together. Both have to pass for either to take effect. There are some committee hurdles for the bills to get over, but that’s a formality so long as democratic leaders are on board. The legislature has until the end of the month to act.

California’s net neutrality amigos ride into action tomorrow


The California legislature is back in session tomorrow, following a month long summer break. The fires ravaging California will certainly be top of mind for everyone, but broadband bills remain on the table. Network neutrality is the big issue, and activists are certain to keep the pressure on to pass effective legislation.

Senate bills 822 and 460 are paired up, and together will reinstate the 2015 Obama era net neutrality rules scrapped late last year by the Trump administration’s republican majority on the Federal Communications Commission. And go a bit further.

If the deal reached in the rush to get out of town last month holds together.

SB 822 is the main event. It bans blocking, throttling and paid prioritisation – as did the 2015 rules – and adds zero rating to the list of forbidden practices. Or at least it did until the industry-friendly assembly communications and conveyances committee got its hands on it. Chair Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), with close support from his wingmen, assemblymen Eduardo Garcia (D -Imperial) and Evan Low (D – Santa Clara), did the bidding of AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast, Charter Communications and others, and eviscerated SB 822.

The outcry from activists and democratic leadership – net neutrality is a flagship issue for the party, particularly in Washington, D.C. – was intense. Garcia backed down at a capitol press conference, and promised to work with senators Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) and Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles), the authors of SB 822 and SB 460 respectively, to restore the bills to their former glory.

If all goes to plan, we should see revised drafts of both bills tomorrow or shortly thereafter. Wiener is leading the net neutrality charge and said as much at the press conference. The question will be whether the new text matches the stringent language of the original versions. With platoons of lobbyists for big telecoms companies dug in for a fight, we can take nothing for granted.

As TV subs cancel, monopoly control of broadband pipes is Comcast’s best hope to grow business


As TV subs cancel, monopoly control of broadband pipes is Comcast's best hope to grow business

Comcast offered the perfect example last week of why big, monopoly broadband companies hate the idea of network neutrality, and are stuffing politician's pockets with cash arguing so eloquently against it.

Comcast's traditional cable television business is bleeding subscribers and revenue at an increasing pace, but its broadband business is booming. The company reported its second quarter 2018 financial results last week. It gained 260,000 broadband subs, but lost 140,000 video customers, which led to a 1.9% decrease in video revenue. Losing video subs is nothing new, but declining revenue is. It's the first time that's happened, according to a story by Ben Munson in FierceVideo.

The reason is Netflix and its over the top kin, according to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, who spoke on a conference call with analysts

Continuing competition from virtual contributed to our 140,000 video customer net losses in the second quarter. We remain focused on segments that we can serve profitably as part of a broader relationship with the customer centered on a whole home experience.

One way of creating that “broader relationship” with a “whole home experience” is to manipulate customers' Internet traffic so the video content Comcast sells comes first and the bandwidth used to carry it is cheaper.

That's what paid prioritisation is all about. There are different ways to game it and Comcast lobbyists have tied themselves up in semantic knots trying to redefine paid prioritisation so that Comcast can claim to be against it while building fast lanes for itself. But it comes down to the same thing: use monopoly control of Internet service to make, say, Netflix's video streams slower and more expensive for consumers than Comcast's.

The potential, and the reality, of that kind of abuse of market power is the reason that the concept of non-discriminatory access and open pricing for critical infrastructure came in being – the common carrier principle. It's as applicable to broadband today as it was to ferries four hundred years ago.

A Washington, DC republican gets net neutrality religion


Another network neutrality bill landed in Washington, D.C. on Monday. What’s interesting about this one is that its author is a republican and it would reinstate the core rules established by the Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission in 2015, but overturned by the Trump administration’s team late last year. At the time, representative Mike Coffman (R – Colorado) urged the FCC to delay repealing net neutrality so federal lawmakers could make the decision instead. The FCC went ahead anyway, so Coffman finally offered his bill in reply.

It sets out the same “bright line rules” as the 2015 FCC decision: no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation, as well as its ban on interconnection charges. Unlike the net neutrality bill working its way through the California legislature, it wouldn’t ban zero rating, though. Coffman also sidesteps the question of whether broadband is a common carrier service: his bill puts broadband into its own category.

As a encore yesterday, Coffman became the first republican in the U.S. house of representatives to sign a petition asking for a vote on a resolution of disapproval that would cancel the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. He’s number 177 on the list. The magic number is 218, a majority of house members. There are plenty of democrats who haven’t signed, although if republican dominoes start to fall, they will probably close ranks too. The resolution was passed by the U.S. senate, with three republican votes. The gap is wider in the house, though. There are 193 democrats, so 25 republicans would have to climb on board. And then president Donald Trump has to sign it.

That’s pretty much the same challenge that Coffman’s bill has to overcome. Its likely first stop will be the subcommittee run by representative Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennesse), who is a reliable friend of AT&T, Comcast and other big monopoly model broadband companies.

Any bets on what’s going to happen?

California’s net neutrality crusade is back on track


Senators Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) and Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles), and assemblymen Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles) and Rob Bonta (D – Alameda) lined up at a capitol press conference yesterday to announce that all was forgiven: strong net neutrality language would be restored to senate bill 822 and SB 460 would be raised from the dead.

What seemed to unite the four was shared democratic party opposition to the Trump administration and a desire to win federal congressional seats away from republicans in November.

Wiener said during the press conference that the bill would be “restructured”, but all the “key protections” would be in it. He expanded on that pledge in a written statement…

Under this agreement, SB 822 will contain strong net neutrality protections and prohibit blocking websites, speeding up or slowing down websites or whole classes of applications such as video, and charging websites for access to an ISP’s subscribers or for fast lanes to those subscribers. ISPs will also be prohibited from circumventing these protections at the point where data enters their networks and from charging access fees to reach ISP customers. SB 822 will also ban ISPs from violating net neutrality by not counting the content and websites they own against subscribers’ data caps. This kind of abusive and anti-competitive “zero rating”, which leads to lower data caps for everyone, would be prohibited, while “zero-rating” plans that don’t harm consumers are not banned.

SB 460 will be amended to focus on requiring ISPs that enter into state contracts adhere to net neutrality principles. This provision ensures that public entities only expend taxpayer funds on contracts with ISPs that comply with California’s comprehensive net neutrality protections.

Wiener credited Bonta with bringing the sides together. Bonta refused to go along when Santiago gutted SB 822 in a committee hearing last month. In the past, he’s championed local broadband projects, in contrast to Santiago’s track record as an AT&T lap dog.

With the legislature on summer vacation, the text of what is said to be a restored bill won’t be filed until 6 August 2018. It needs to be read carefully and closely – as Wiener noted as he closed, the game isn’t over. “The telecom and cable companies, they fight hard, they are effective and we are confident they are going to oppose this to the end”, he cautioned.

One net neutrality bill still standing as California legislature preps for summer break


Senate bill 460 missed a key deadline on Friday and is now technically dead (with the caveat that resurrection is always theoretically possible in the California legislature). It was the weaker of two bills that aimed to restore Internet neutrality rules in California. Its author, senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles), pulled it from an ugly committee hearing two weeks ago and never put it back in play.

That leaves SB 822 as the only net neutrality measure still in the game. It’s sitting with the assembly’s appropriation committee, where legislative leaders will decide – probably in mid-August – whether to release it for a floor vote. That’s assuming its author, senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), doesn’t follow de Leon’s lead and withdraw it too.

Between now and mid-August, Wiener will presumably be negotiating with assemblyman Miguel Santiago, the chair of the assembly’s communications and conveyances committee and an eager recipient of tens of thousands of dollars from AT&T, Charter Communications and other big telecoms companies. He was responsible for gutting SB 822 and, according to common practice at the California capitol, can block any attempts to restore it. Wiener has said that if those fixes
aren’t made, he’ll scrap SB 822 altogether, because, as he told Santiago’s committee, it would be a sham…

The committee amendments do not stop ISPs from blocking, throttling or slowing down websites. They can just do that now at the point of interconnection. This has the same end result as if we had no bill at all. The committee amendments allow the ISPs to create fast lanes, to enhance or speed up favored websites who pay more, while relegating everyone else to a slower traffic lane. This bill allows fast lanes for companies that have enough money to pay for it.

The committee amendments will allow AT&T and other ISPs to throttle an entire class of applications. So for example, AT&T could decide that it is going to throttle all telephony applications, like Skype or Vonage, because those are competing against AT&T’s telephony services. The amendments do not prohibit that. The committee amendments will allow AT&T to engage in corporate self dealing by favoring its massive Time Warner media sites over competitors’ sites, by saying ‘hey, if you use my media sites it doesn’t count against your data, if you use my competitors’, you’re going to have to pay data’.

The committee amendments eliminate the bill’s prohibition against, quote, engaging in deceptive or misleading marketing practices that misrepresent the treatment of Internet traffic. That was deleted in the amendments that you just adopted. The committee amendments allow ISPs to charge websites gatekeeper fees for access to ISP customers. And if they don’t pay, those websites would become invisible to consumers. Again, the whole point of net neutrality is that we get to decide where we go, that the ISPs are not the ones to pick winners and losers. Yet that is exactly what the amended version of the bill, that this committee just voted to adopt, before even hearing the bill, will do.

The assembly appropriations committee doesn’t have a meeting scheduled before the legislature’s month long summer break, which begins on Friday.

Flood of lobbyists drowning California net neutrality bill


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.

“Fake net neutrality bill” moves ahead in California assembly


As requested by the bill’s author, the California assembly’s privacy and consumer protection committee approved senate bill 822 without changes this afternoon. Wiener again blasted the amendments made last week by the industry-friendly communications and conveyances committee, saying he had no desire to pass “a fake net neutrality bill”. But if the bill died in today’s committee meeting, it would be game over, and Wiener wants to try to work something out with assemblyman Miguel Santiago, the committee chair who gutted SB 822. Otherwise, Wiener said in a statement “if the bill ultimately remains in its current form, I will withdraw it”.

Weak net neutrality language offered to save California assembly’s “integrity”


Network neutrality rules have another chance in Sacramento tomorrow. The California assembly’s privacy and consumer protection committee takes up senate bill 822, after it was eviscerated – to use the author’s verb – by the communications and conveyances committee last week. Anything might happen, but the cards on the table now point toward modest and rickety repairs, rather than complete reversal of the damage.

The privacy and consumer protection committee published its staff analysis of the bill, which suggested simplifying it by referencing the now-repealed 2015 net neutrality decision by the Federal Communications Commission, and telling Internet service providers to comply with the rules it laid down – no more, no less. That would be consistent with what the communications and conveyances committee chair, assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), claimed he was doing. He was actually trying to gut SB 822 completely, which he and his wingmen – assemblymen Evan Low (D – Santa Clara) and Eduardo Garcia (D – Riverside) – succeeded in doing, with help from most of the other committee members, republican and democrat alike.

But taking Santiago at his word is a convenient fiction for the privacy and consumer protection committee staff, who diplomatically wrote

In order to preserve the integrity of the institution and the committee hearing process, it is improper for one committee to wholly undo the exact amendments of the prior committee.

Integrity might seem like a poor choice of words in this context. Santiago, Low and Garcia are reliable friends of AT&T, and Wednesday’s committee hearing was an exhibition of pure political muscle.

There are problems with simply incorporating the defunct Obama-era FCC net neutrality decision by reference. It was crafted by then-FCC chair Tom Wheeler, who saw himself as an active referee on the telecoms playing field. Rather than try to write detailed rules, Wheeler laid out three “bright line” principles – no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation – and left the details to be decided by commissioners as the game progressed. For example, zero rating wasn’t explicitly banned, although the FCC was moving in that direction. Although the FCC’s decision is chock full of policy analysis and examples, it’s weak on thou shalts and thou shalt nots. It’s a very poor basis for enforcement by courts that interpret and apply laws, rather than make policy as the FCC does.

So the California legislature has a choice. It can pass an unenforceable bill or it can add enough detail and depth for courts to make meaningful rulings, as SB 822 tried to do. Or it can create its own referee, which seems to appeal to no one.

It’s a safe bet that, as he did last week, SB 822 author, senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), will continue negotiations behind the scenes, right up until tomorrow afternoon’s hearing. It’s far from certain, though, whether he’ll have any more success.