From 48 Hills
By Chris Witteman and Tracey Rosenberg
July 1, 2018
The last couple of weeks have not been good ones for those who see communications as a social justice issue.
The 2015 Open Internet Order, which ensured Internet neutrality and fairness, was finally stripped out of the law books per order of the Trump FCC, now run by a former lawyer for Verizon. San Francisco’s plan for a publicly-owned fiber broadband network was put on hold, and all indications are that Mayor Breed will likely bow to AT&T and Comcast by keeping it from resurfacing. And California’s own net neutrality bill, designed to reverse what Trump’s FCC had done, got ambushed by an upstart young Assemblymember.
AT&T’s annual “Speaker’s Cup” golf tournament is a case study in out-of-control lobbying.
The California bill’s sponsor, Sen. Scott Wiener, did it right—he listened to the experts (folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Stanford law professor Barbara van Schewick, and others), and crafted a bill, SB 822, that many regarded as the gold standard in net neutrality, with protections even better than the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order.
SB 822 was voted out of three Senate committees by healthy margins, and then passed by the full Senate on May 30 on a 23-12 vote, even picking up votes from otherwise AT&T-friendly legislators like Kevin De Leon and Ben Hueso.
But they were waiting for it in the Assembly, with knives sharpened.
At about 10pm on Tuesday night, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago’s Conveyance and Communications Committee released amendments designed to gut the bill, allowing the telcos and cable companies to charge content providers for the privilege of reaching consumers (that would be you, dear reader), even though you are paying for Internet access service that promises non-discriminatory end-to-end access to all content on the Internet. Under the Santiago amendments, carriers like AT&T and Comcast could collect twice every time you view a Netflix film or other content, once in your monthly bill, and once from the content provider.
What could explain Santiago’s determination to cripple the bill, and prevent an open discussion before the vote? Maybe the fact that he received over $66,000 from communications carriers in the several years before this vote, while other Committee members voting for the amendments received from $23,000 to $102,000 each. And that the California Democratic Party has received a great deal more from AT&T, Comcast, and other major industry players.