Well, it was nice while it lasted. Earlier this year, California unveiled a net neutrality bill that could’ve served as a model for the nation, after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai used false data and bankrupt arguments to destroy the FCC’s previous net neutrality implementation. But yesterday, Democratic Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, chair of the Communications and Conveyance Committee, passed amendments that would effectively gut the law.
Coincidentally, ATT is one of Assemblyman Santiago’s top donors and a major force behind the drive to kill the bills.
Here’s what happened: Lawmakers had struck a deal to combine two competing net neutrality bills, SB 822 and SB 460, from Senators Scott Wiener and Kevin de León. Passing the bills under contingent enactment meant that both had to pass for either to go into effect. ATT has stoutly opposed the bills, running dozens of ads against them. At the beginning of the meeting, Santiago proposed his own amendments before the bill had even had a hearing, then limited the amount of time for discussion or debate to the changes he offered. Scott Wiener has already denounced the entire process in strong terms:
Our #NetNeutrality bill, #SB822, was gutted today by the Assembly Communications Committee, b/f I was allowed to present the bill b/f public comment. The eviscerated bill was passed over my objection. CA should lead on net neutrality, not pass a toothless bill. My statement: pic.twitter.com/DkZQTajftW
— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) June 20, 2018
Santiago’s amendments changed SB 822 in the following ways:
- Eliminated a ban on ISPs charging websites or online services for access to the end users of the ISP.
- Removed a provision that would have prevented ISPs from charging online services for zero rating. Without this provision, ATT, Comcast, or other services can charge Netflix an additional fee for its traffic not to count against user monthly data use. Data caps have often been used to impose artificial scarcity, which is then “solved” by paying an additional fee to remove the data cap. Companies like Comcast have admitted publicly that their data caps are nothing but an attempt to extract additional money from users, not a matter of network quality or load.
- Removed a requirement that ISPs maintain enough bandwidth at network interconnection points to prevent service outages, unreasonable delays, and other problems. Again, in the past, we’ve seen ISPs deliberately degrade service from companies like Netflix to force the firm to pay still more to have its traffic carried.
The amendments were approved by the committee in a vote of 8-2 before comments on them or the bill itself had even been opened. Seven Democrats and one Republican voted for passing the bill in its weakened form, while the two “No” votes came from Republicans who are opposed to even the weakened bill. TheNextWeb reports that Santiago received at least $43,000 in contributions during his tenure in the California government and $60,000 during his last campaign. ATT also donated $750,000 to a charity in his district, while Charter made a $10,000 charity donation at Santiago’s behest.
Wiener has threatened to withdraw his bills if the amendments are left in it. With the Senate’s attempt to block the repeal of net neutrality thwarted, only fresh legislation from Congress or state-level law can save net neutrality in the US.