Tag Archives: netneutrality

California assembly committee guts and kills net neutrality bills

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One net neutrality bill is dead and another is critically wounded after a hearing this morning in the California legislature. The industry-friendly communications and conveyances committee adopted a long list of amendments to senate bill 822 that “eviscerate” it, as its author, senator Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco) put it. The committee’s chair, assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), who has cashed tens of thousands of dollars worth of checks from telephone and cable companies, rammed the changes through over Weiner’s objections.

SB 460, a weaker bill carried by senator Kevin de Leon, was pulled from the agenda after Santiago nixed a deal to combine it with SB 822.

It’s a serious set back for net neutrality advocates, but not necessarily fatal. SB 460 is probably dead, but the language in SB 822 is a long way from being final. The next step is a hearing in the assembly privacy and consumer protection committee, which should come in the next week and a half.

Deal reached to combine California net neutrality bills

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The two network neutrality revival bills moving through the California legislature are now one. Sorta. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times by Jazmine Ulloa, senators Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco) and Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles) agreed yesterday to partner up on their net neutrality bills – senate bills 822 and 460, respectively. Weiner will carry the core net neutrality regulations – no blocking, throttling, paid prioritisation or zero rating – while de Leon’s bill will focus on the simpler task of requiring state and local agencies to only buy Internet service from companies that follow those rules.

They also agreed to bind the two bills together. Both have to be passed by the legislature and signed by governor Jerry Brown in order for either one to take effect. It’s both or nothing.

According to the article, the two senators decided it was time to close ranks…

Wiener said combining forces was necessary to reinstate net neutrality in California amid heavy lobbying in Sacramento from major internet service providers, “playing the bills against each other with the goal of killing both.”

It’s a win-win solution for them. Weiner has done the heavy lifting on the issue, crafting and re-crafting his bill’s language so it would withstand the inevitable court challenges from telecoms companies. De Leon, on the other hand, has an almost certainly doomed November election campaign against U.S. senator and fellow democrat Diane Feinstein to worry about. His bill is not as well written and he’s been largely silent on the issue for the past few months. Weiner gets the legislative win; de Leon scores at least some points with democratic voters.

The amended bills haven’t been published yet. It’ll be important to read the changes carefully. The California assembly’s communications and conveyance committee is scheduled to vote on the bills tomorrow. Standard practice is for committee chairs, in this case assemblyman Miguel Santiago, and their staff to negotiate changes beforehand. Santiago’s committee has been kind to industry lobbyists in the past, and could try to weaken SB 822, as senator Ben Hueso, chair of the senate energy, utilities and communications committee appeared to do when his committee reviewed it.

AT&T holds minorities, poor hostage in California net neutrality battle

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The California assembly’s communications and conveyances committee hasn’t published its analysis of network neutrality legislation yet, but it’s getting plenty of analytical help from AT&T. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has uncovered another bespoke white paper that’s circulating behind closed doors in Sacramento. It’s authored by a hired gun economist and distributed by Cal Innovates, a lobbying front for AT&T, Uber and several small companies and non-profits.

The piece takes aim at the ban on zero rating proposed by senator Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco) in senate bill 822. That’s a technique major Internet service providers use to give content – particularly video, that they own and/or sell – an advantage over their competitors by leveraging their control over the bandwidth their customers buy. If, for example, you watch AT&T’s video via your AT&T mobile connection, it doesn’t count against your monthly data cap. If you watch Netflix, though, it does.

The paper claims that “low income and minority Californians enjoy disproportionately greater benefits from zero-rated data”. Low income Californians tend to rely solely on smartphones for Internet access because, well, they don’t have a lot of money. But zero rating, according to EFF, produces the the exact opposite of what AT&T’s lobbying front claims

Users who depend on their wireless device for Internet access are highly likely to pay overage fees when they try to take advantage of the full, open web. These overage fees are part of a scheme to force wireless Internet users to only use products and services that the wireless ISP has exempted from their own arbitrary data caps—and to punish users when they stray from those products and services. The CTIA’s own study confirms that if they can drive Internet users to their chosen zero rated products to the detriment of potentially superior services.

In other words, any harm is the result of AT&T’s deliberate marketing and network management tactics. They’re telling the legislature: screw us with net neutrality and we’ll screw minorities and the poor.

The communications and conveyances committee is scheduled to consider SB 822, and a weaker net neutrality revival bill, SB 460, carried by senator (and U.S. senate candidate) Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles), on Wednesday. The committee has a history of accommodating big telcos and cable companies. We’ll soon know whether history will repeat itself.

Net neutrality bills converge at the California capitol

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The two network neutrality bills moving through the California legislature will finally be reviewed together, or at least one after the other, in a committee hearing. Next week, the California assembly’s communications and conveyances committee is schedule to take up senate bills 460 and 822.

SB 822, by senator Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco) is the stiffer and better written measure. It mimics the same three bright line rules that the Federal Communications Commission enforced until this past Monday – no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation – and adds zero rating to the list.

Zero rating is the practice of not counting a carrier’s own content against data caps. For example, if AT&T said that its mobile customers could watch all the DirecTv video they wanted, but anything they streamed from Netflix would count against their monthly data limit, then that would be zero rating.

State and local agencies would also not be allowed to buy Internet service – mobile or fixed – from companies that don’t abide by SB 822’s rules.

The bill was recently amended, but the changes are generally technical. A sharper distinction was drawn between “mass market” and “enterprise” services – the rules would apply to mass market service, but not to “offering[s] to larger organisations through customised or individually negotiated arrangements or special access services”. Language that specifically authorises the California attorney general to bring offending companies to court was eliminated. The net neutrality rules would be written into consumer protection law, which already gives the attorney general authority to act.

SB 460 is authored by senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles). It was cobbled together as a legislative deadline ticked down at the beginning of the year and isn’t as well thought out as SB 822. But de Leon was senate majority leader until recently and has the desperate job of trying to unseat fellow democrat Diane Feinstein in this year’s U.S. senate race. Owning a bill that takes on a high profile issue targeted by democrats at the national level will help him raise money and gain name recognition.

Both bills won’t make it through the legislative process and land on governor Brown’s desk. The likeliest outcome will be for the two to be combined into a jointly authored bill. The best opportunity to do so might come at next Wednesday’s hearing. The question is whether the often industry-friendly communications and conveyances committee will choose the weaker or stronger option.

Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom

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If you’re reading this post, the Internet did not explode when network neutrality control rods were yanked this morning. The Federal Communications Commission made today the day that its repeal of bright line net neutrality no-nos – no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation – takes effect.

The federal appeals court challenge to the FCC’s action hasn’t gone anywhere yet, except to bounce from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, and back again. As of Friday afternoon, no one had even asked the D.C. circuit court to put the FCC’s rollback on hold. The case is still active, but so far it’s just chugging along at the speed of justice – slow. It could be years before legal challenges to the FCC decision are complete.

The effort to overturn the decision in the U.S. congress isn’t moving even that fast. Although it was narrowly approved by the U.S. senate, the resolution of disapproval is stalled in the house of representatives. The Verge hopefully reports that it’s “less than 50 votes from passing”, which is another way of saying that not even all democrats are on board with it. You can check the list here.

The smart money says that the big players, including Comcast, Charter Communications, AT&T and Frontier Communications, won’t rush to subdivide the Internet into walled gardens. If you take them at their word, they will begin channeling traffic into paid-for fast lanes and free slow lanes. But even that’s not likely to happen quickly. They will be careful not to needlessly antagonise federal lawmakers ahead of the November elections, when net neutrality will be a campaign issue, or while the resolution of disapproval is still on the table.

They’ll also want to keep the heat down while they try to beat back efforts in the California legislature to reinstate net neutrality obligations at the state level. Senate bill 460, the weaker of the two net neutrality revival attempts, is scheduled for a hearing in the assembly communications and conveyances committee on Wednesday. It’s possible that SB 822, the beefier bill, will join it.

FCC caught in lies about flood of net neutrality comments

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The Federal Communications Commission lied when it claimed its online public comment system was blocked by a deliberate and malicious cyber attack, after HBO’s John Oliver issued a call to arms over plans to repeal network neutrality rules. Then it lied again to protect the first lie. That’s the conclusion of an investigation into the incident by Gizmodo.

As I blogged about at the time, the FCC’s online system came to a grinding halt, apparently after being flooded with automated comments of dubious origin that supported the repeal. In a press release, the FCC blamed it on “multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDos)”. Later, according to Gizmodo, the FCC tried to back up that statement by saying a similar attack knocked out its comment system in 2014.

According to documents pieced together by Gizmodo, both claims were false…

Internal emails reviewed by Gizmodo lay bare the agency’s [2017] efforts to counter rife speculation that senior officials manufactured a cyberattack, allegedly to explain away technical problems plaguing the FCC’s comment system amid its high-profile collection of public comments on a controversial and since-passed proposal to overturn federal net neutrality rules…

David Bray, who served as the FCC’s chief information officer from 2013 until June 2017, assured reporters in a series of off-the-record exchanges that a DDoS attack had occurred three years earlier. More shocking, however, is that Bray claimed Wheeler, the former FCC chairman, had covered it up.

Bray responded in a blog post of his own, saying picky, picky, picky

Whether the correct phrase is denial of service or “bot swarm” or “something hammering the Application Programming Interface” (API) of the commenting system — the fact is something odd was happening in May 2017.

That’s kind of like calling the police and saying you can’t leave your house because you’re under siege by a North Korean special forces battalion, but when they show up, they find you drove home drunk and parked your car too close to the garage door.

Well, okay officer. But I swear, something odd was happening.

California legislature says yes to broadband, online privacy bills

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With Friday’s deadline behind us, we know which bills are getting serious consideration in the California legislature. Any bill that didn’t make it through a full floor vote and get sent from one house to the other is now dead (with the caveat that death is never final so long as the California legislature is still in session).

Short answer: all the bills I’m still following and, for the most part, blogging about live on…

Muni broadband

Net neutrality

  • Senate bill 460 – resurrects net neutrality rules as consumer protection law; requires state and local agencies to buy Internet service from companies that follow those rules. Passed by senate, now assigned to the assembly communications and conveyance committee – which also defers to industry lobbyists – and the privacy and consumer protection committee.
  • SB 822 – a stronger net neutrality revival, it was passed by the senate and is in the hopper at the assembly. Expect it to be paired with its weaker cousin, SB 460, in the committee process.
  • Senate resolution 74 – a high sounding but completely meaningless endorsement of net neutrality principles by the California senate. Passed on a party line vote and is probably hanging on someone’s wall, somewhere.

Privacy

  • AB 1906 – aimed at the Internet of things, it requires passwords on Internet-connected devices. Passed by the assembly, sent to the senate.
  • AB 2511 – potentially the legislature’s most fraught Internet bill this session, it would require online merchants to “take reasonable steps to verify the age” of anyone who might purchase or view age restricted products or content. Also restricts commercial use of information posted by minors. Passed by the assembly, sent to the senate.
  • AB 2935 – adds privacy protections to health monitoring programs, online and otherwise. Could have implications for fitness and athletic social media, such as Strava. Passed by the assembly, sent to the senate.
  • SB 327 – another shot at requiring security features on connected devices. Passed by the senate, now with the assembly privacy and consumer protections committee.
  • SB 1001 – requires bots – computer programs that mimic people, used by companies to chat with customers – to identify themselves as such. Passed by the senate, sent to they assembly.
  • SB 1186 – requires local governments to disclose the types and uses of law enforcement surveillance technology. Passed by the senate, sent to the assembly.
  • SB 1424 – formerly a far reaching attempt to police free speech on the Internet, it was neutered by senate committees 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”. Passed unamimously by the senate, sent to the assembly.

Emergency preparedness

  • AB 2910 – a weak response to the fire storms that ravaged California last year, it would require the California Public Utilities Commission to file a report about restoration efforts in the black hole of Sacramento with the legislature. Passed by the assembly, sent to the senate.
  • SB 1076 – a rare attempt by the legislature to prepare for a disaster before it happens, it would require the California office of emergency services “to update the state emergency plan to include preparedness recommendations to harden the critical infrastructure of electrical utilities against an electromagnetic pulse attack, geomagnetic storm event, or other potential cause of a long-term outage”. Translation: start thinking about how to keep the lights on if a nuclear bomb explodes (possible, but not inevitable) or Earth is hit by another Carrington event (definitely inevitable). Passed by the senate, sent to the assembly.

Priority lanes the top priority for big ISPs, when net neutrality ends

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When the FCC’s repeal of network neutrality rules takes effect, as is likely, a week from tomorrow on 11 June 2018, you can expect the big Internet service providers to move slowly toward paid prioritisation. The moment they think they can get away with it, they’ll begin selling fast lanes to online content and service companies (edge providers, as they’re called) and giving their in-house content the same boost.

Paid prioritisation, throttling and blocking are three “bright line” practices that the 2015 FCC order banned, and they’re all interrelated. The technical details are different, but the result is the same: some traffic goes first, some traffic goes last.

Throttling and blocking – slowing down or completely stopping less profitable traffic – probably won’t happen. It’s unnecessary. If, say, Netflix pays AT&T to clear a path for its video traffic, then, say, YouTube ends up in the slow lane by default. Unless YouTube also writes AT&T a big, fat check. It’s a heads I win, tails you lose business proposition for big ISPs.

That’s why lobbyists speaking on behalf of AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and Frontier Communications are waving sacks of cash arguing so eloquently in Sacramento, hoping to stop the California legislature from banning paid prioritisation.

The winners will be the ISPs with the most market share – Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Verizon. Big, established web platforms like Netflix, Google and Facebook will also benefit. They can bear the cost of paid prioritisation. New, innovative and competitive companies will be at a distinct disadvantage. The Internet will no longer be an even playing field where small companies can successfully challenge the big ones simply by offering a superior service to consumers.

Back in the day, that’s how two small start ups – Google and Facebook – took on the market leaders – Yahoo and My Space – and won. Paid prioritisation puts market controlling power back in the hands of a relative few companies. It’ll be a return to the managed content business of the 1980s and 1990s.

Net neutrality clears California senate on party line vote

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The future of network neutrality is now in the hands of the California assembly. Yesterday, the California senate approved senate bill 822, authored by Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco) on a party line vote. It bakes net neutrality principles into California consumer protection law, and gives both contingency fee trial lawyers and the California attorney general the authority to sue Internet service providers that don’t comply.

The language approved by the California senate reinstates the three “bright line” bans imposed by the FCC in 2015 and then overturned late last year: no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation. And it adds a fourth – zero rating – to the list.

State and local agencies would also be required to buy Internet service from providers that abide by those rules, unless it’s in “a geographical area where Internet access services are only available from a single broadband Internet access service provider”. The net neutrality purchasing requirement applies to fixed and mobile services alike, and extends to any broadband purchases paid for with California taxpayers’ money.

Strong as it may seem now, SB 822 was watered down by the industry-friendly senate energy, utilities and communications committee – it won’t explicitly apply to broadband projects subsidised by the state and it won’t add net neutrality obligations to cable franchise requirements.

SB 822 now joins SB 460 in the California assembly’s in-box. SB 460 is carried by Kevin De Leon (D – Los Angeles), until recently the senate majority leader and now a candidate for the U.S. senate, challenging fellow democrat and incumbent U.S. senator Diane Feinstein. His bill was approved by the California senate on a similar party line vote and then stalled in the assembly. De Leon’s bill is the weaker of the two – among other differences, he would allow zero rating and includes fewer enforcement mechanisms.

The likeliest scenario is that one bill will be folded into the other. Which bill survives – and which senator gets the spotlight – could depend on the results of Tuesday’s primary. If De Leon ends up in a run off with Feinstein in November, he’ll need a mountain of name recognition and cash, and his colleagues in the legislature might be inclined to help him get it.

Net neutrality bill gets a big green light in the California senate

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A California network neutrality revival bill got the blessing of California senate leaders, and now heads to a floor vote. Senate bill 822, authored by Scott Weiner (D – San Francisco), was endorsed by the senate appropriations committee on a pro forma party line vote on Friday. It would add blocking, ,throttling, paid prioritisation and zero rating to the list of unfair practices banned by California consumer protection law. It would also require state and local agencies in California to buy Internet service only from providers who abide by net neutrality principles.

Bills that spend money or add costs have to be reviewed by fiscal committees before going on to a full vote by either the California senate or assembly. Typically – and this year was typical – those committees hold the bills until the last possible day, and then release the ones that have sufficient political muscle behind them. The rest die a quiet death, without anyone having to take heat for a no vote.

The casualty list includes assembly bill 2166, by assemblywoman Anna Caballero (D – Salinas), that would have set up agricultural technology programs and required county agriculture commissioners to track Internet availability in rural communities.

Likewise, AB 2431, by assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D – San Diego), was spiked. Although it was watered down as moved through committee reviews, the basic idea behind it was to allow school districts to file claims for “intervenor compensation” at the California Public Utilities Commission. California law allows outside groups to jump in on cases under review by the CPUC, and forces regulated companies to reimburse them for their costs. It can be a gold mine for lawyers and consultants, whose billable hours often run well into the six figure range. Giving them another way to cash in would add even more costs to utility bills and drag out already long and needlessly complicated proceedings.