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

1 July 2018 by Steve Blum
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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.