Fast, reliable broadband considered by California lawmakers. AT&T, Comcast, Charter pay millions to say no

27 July 2020 by Steve Blum
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Money case 625

When members of the California assembly’s communications and conveyances committee take their seats tomorrow, they’ll be looking out at – actually or virtually – big telecoms lobbyists that 1. pay millions of dollars for laws they love and 2. hate the two broadband bills that are on the covid-shortened agenda. Senate bill 1130 raises California minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download/25 Mbps upload speeds, and SB 431 imposes back up power and web browsing requirements on mobile carriers (but not on cable company VoIP or telcos’ ersatz wireless broadband, thanks to those same lobbyists).

The twelve members of the C&C committee pocketed a total of $1.7 million from the communications and electronics sector over the course of their legislative careers, according to data from the Follow the Money website. That doesn’t yet include money paid during this election year. Much of it comes from AT&T – the top contributor in the sector – and cable companies, such as Comcast and Charter Communications, which together take second place. Members of the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee have raked in even more cash.

Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles) chairs C&C, and has used the authority that goes with the job to keep his patrons happy. When a network neutrality bill – SB 822 – was under consideration two years ago, he strong armed killer amendments into it, pleasing telcos and cable companies, but enraging online opinion. The ensuing meme storm forced him to back down. That was unusual, though. Typically, he follows the monopoly model telecom playbook, except when organised labor – an even bigger benefactor – objects.

Through the end of last year, AT&T paid Santiago $43,000, including $10,000 via a side organisation – sometimes referred to as a ballot measure committee – that Santiago operates. It allows him to get around legal limits on direct payments. Comcast, Charter and other cable companies have matched that, with $43,000 paid between them (all totals are rounded and include payments from affiliates now owned or controlled by cable and telco parents). Mobile companies (other than AT&T) gave Santiago $25,000 and Frontier kicked in $9,000. All up, Santiago has raked in $262,000 from companies and individuals in the communications and electronics sector.

Evan Low (D – Santa Clara), who also does a good day’s work for AT&T, does even better than Santiago. Industry payments to Low total $351,000 – more than anyone else on the C&C committee. He represents a slice of Silicon Valley, and collects a lot of that money from tech companies. But big telecom pays him handsomely, too. He’s taken $58,000 from AT&T, including $18,000 to his slush fund ballot measure committee. Comcast, Charter and other cable companies put $47,000 in Low’s pocket, other mobile interests gave him $22,000 and Frontier paid him $4,000.

Eduardo Garcia (D – Imperial), Santiago’s other reliable wingman on the committee, has been paid $107,000 by communications and electronics industry interests, but most of it – $79,000 – came from big telecom. He doesn’t have a side hustle – yet – so those are all direct payments. Garcia took $29,000 from AT&T, $4,000 from Frontier, $34,000 from Charter, Comcast and other cable companies, and $13,000 from the mobile industry (ex AT&T). On the other hand, Garcia has signed on as a co-author of SB 1130 – we’ll soon find other whether it’s for good or ill.

The covid-19 restrictions in force at the state capitol mean that remote public participation is allowed. The call-in number is supposed to be posted on the committee’s website tomorrow morning, ahead of the 10:00 a.m. scheduled starting time.

Legislative career payments from communications and electronics industry sector, as of 31 December 2019

California assembly communications and conveyance committee members
Miguel Santiago (chair) D – Los Angeles $252,258
Jay Obernolte (vice chair) R – San Bernardino $127,941
Tasha Boerner Horvath D – San Diego $40,850
Rob Bonta D – Alameda $201,249
Sabrina Cervantes D – Riverside $62,100
Eduardo Garcia D – Imperial $107,125
Chris Holden D – Los Angeles $249,318
Sydney Kamlager-Dove D – Los Angeles $69,455
Evan Low D – Santa Clara $333,184
Jim Patterson R – Fresno $135,725
Sharon Quirk-Silva D – Orange $84,248
Freddie Rodriguez D – Los Angeles $79,567
California senate energy, utilities and communications committee members
Ben Hueso (chair) D – San Diego $185,663
John Moorlach (vice chair) R – San Diego $68,000
Steven Bradford D – Los Angeles $372,632
Ling Ling Chang R – Orange $117,208
Brian Dahle R – Lassen $187,548
Bill Dodd D – Napa $149,584
Bob Hertzberg D – Los Angeles $347,212
Jerry Hill D – San Mateo $290,366
Mike McGuire D – Sonoma $78,169
Susan Rubio D – Los Angeles $24,449
Nancy Skinner D – Alameda $264,803
Henry Stern D – Los Angeles $185,385
Scott Wiener D – San Francisco $294,031
Grand Total $4,308,070
Source:, California secretary of state’s office

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.