Net neutrality bill thottled by AT&T’s friends in the California legislature

21 June 2018 by Steve Blum
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In an ugly display of legislative muscle yesterday, assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), the chair of the California assembly’s communications and conveyances committee, gutted senate bill 822, the lead network neutrality bill in the California legislature.

The other net neutrality bill, SB 460, was withdrawn by its author, senator Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles). Although it’s technically still alive, SB 460 is dead as a practical matter (although resurrection is always a possibility at the California capitol). Santiago rejected the deal de Leon reached with Wiener over the weekend. Although no explanation for de Leon’s withdrawal was offered, it’s not hard to connect the dots.

Santiago, who has pocketed tens of thousands of dollars from telecoms companies$8,800 from AT&T alone this session – offered drastic amendments that blasted big holes in SB 822, and called for a vote, over Wiener’s objections.

Seven other committee members, including all four republicans, fell in line with Santiago and voted aye on the amendments: Jay Olbernolte (R – San Bernardino), Eduardo Garcia (D – Riverside), Brian Maienschein (R – San Diego), Devon Mathis (R – Tulare), Jim Patterson (R – Fresno), Freddie Rodriguez (D – San Bernardino), Sabrina Cervantes (D – Riverside).

Wiener shot back at Santiago…

What the committee just did was outrageous…the amendments that the committee just adopted eviscerate the bill. It’s no longer a real net neutrality bill. It is astounding to me that the committee would, and that you would ask the committee, to take that vote before hearing my presentation, before hearing public comment, before hearing support and opposition for amendments that were issued less than 12 hours ago. So I will state for the record: I think what just happened, I think was a violation of assembly rules but even if it wasn’t it’s fundamentally unfair.

Nevertheless, the committee moved ahead and considered the now-gutted version of SB 822.

For the next couple of hours, arguments for and against reinstating network neutrality rules followed a predictable path. Supporters of SB 822 urged the committee to reinstate the original language. Opponents, led by AT&T, said amended or not, they didn’t support it.

Wiener then tried to take SB 822 off the table, saying “I don’t want a vote today on this bill”.

Santiago rejected the request, citing a legislative deadline that comes at the end of next week. It was a phony excuse – as committee chair, he could have brought the bill back for another hearing well before then. Garcia moved for a vote, and assemblyman Evan Low (D – Santa Clara) seconded him. Both are also reliable friends of AT&T. Garcia carried a bill creating a $300 million piggy bank for telcos last year and Low pushed to allow them to rip out rural copper networks a couple of years ago.

Then came the second and final vote. Olbernolte and Mathis flipped and voted no. Patterson effectively did the same by abstaining, as did Rob Bonta (D – Alameda) and Chris Holden (D – Los Angeles). But Low, Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D – Los Angeles) and Sharon Quirk-Silva (D – Orange) added their support and the amended – eviscerated – version of SB 822 was approved. Its next stop is the assembly’s privacy and consumer protection committee.

Correction: Sabrina Cervantes (D – Riverside) recorded an aye vote for SB 822. The post above was corrected and updated, per the posted vote tally.