Good news, bad news, no news for California net neutrality bills

29 August 2018 by Steve Blum
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The good news is that California senate bill 822 won’t – can’t – be watered down or otherwise amended. Last night was the deadline set by the California constitution for making and posting amendments to any pending legislation (short of a declaration of emergency by the governor). Authored by senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco), SB 822 would reinstate network neutrality regulations scrapped last year by the Federal Communications Commission. It would outlaw blocking, throttling, paid prioritisation and non-neutral zero rating of consumer broadband service, as well as any attempt by Internet service providers to evade those bans via upstream maneuvers.

SB 822 is awaiting a vote by the full assembly – that’s the no news of the day. So far, there’s been no action. The California assembly has to approve it and the senate has to concur by Friday (although the legislature has been known to stop the clock short of midnight, to eke out a few extra hours of working time).

The bad news is that a companion bill, SB 460, was crippled by assembly leaders. It would have required all state and local agencies to only buy broadband services from ISPs that follow SB 822’s net neutrality rules. The assembly appropriations committee, which is effectively the voice of legislative leaders of both parties, made changes to the bill on Monday. The author, senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles), posted the new version on the legislature’s website at 2:00 p.m. Those amendments, which first surfaced last week in the assembly’s privacy and consumer protection committee, means SB 460 would only apply to contracts of $100,000 or more, with big loopholes thrown in.

That counts as a win for lobbyists, and cash, from AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and telcos and cable companies. Although SB 822 sets down net neutrality rules that apply to everyone’s service, its also vulnerable to court challenges. Its proponents think they have a very defendable bill, but there’s no guarantee that federal courts will agree. On the other hand, SB 460 restricts state spending, which is much safer ground for legislative action.

SB 460 also has be approved by both the assembly and senate before the legislature adjourns on Friday. Because amendments have to published and posted on the Internet 72 hours before a final vote (that’s why last night was the deadline), SB 460 can’t be acted on until Friday afternoon. Given the stack of legislation and the bags of cash virulent opposition from telecoms lobbyists in front of them, lawmakers might not act on either SB 460 or SB 822 until late on Friday.