AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon lobbyists are working in concern to try and weaken California’s tough new net neutrality law before it can pass through the state legislature. California State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 822 was recently approved by the California Senate Energy Committee and now moves on to the Judiciary Committee. The proposal has been called the “gold standard” by groups like the EFF, and goes notably further than even the modest FCC rules did by addressing things like “zero rating” (using usage caps anti-competitively).
Federal FCC net neutrality rules expired as of June 11 after a historically unpopular lobbying power play by major ISPs, and many states are now rushing it to try and protect consumers.
Needless to say, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast lobbyists and executives don’t much like that, and according to a new report by the EFF are engaged in a last-minute bid to weaken the rules before it can pass.
“California s legislature has so far opted to ban discriminatory users of zero rating and prevent the major wireless players from picking winners and losers online,” notes the EFF. “But new and increased resistance by the ISP lobby (led by AT&T and their representative organization CALinnovates) unfortunately has legislators contemplating whether discriminatory zero rating practices should remain lawful despite their harms for low-income Internet users.”
“In fact, AT&T and their representatives are even going so far as to argue that their discriminatory self-dealing practices that violate net neutrality are actually good for low income Internet users,” says the EFF.
The idea that usage caps, overage fees and zero rating help poor people is something AT&T lobbyists (and their friends like FCC boss Ajit Pai) have been insisting for years. Of course AT&T’s goal has always been anti-competitive: especially since it exempts its own content from usage caps while penalizing competitors like Netflix, in the process driving up costs for users that veer too far away from AT&T’s own content or services.
In fact the last FCC clearly stated that AT&T’s usage of zero rating is anti-competitive. However, their realization that usage caps could be used anti-competitively came too late, and once Trump was elected the new FCC declared such arbitrary limits and gamesmanship was perfectly acceptable. Whether California lawmakers can be
bribed cajoled into buying into AT&T’s logic remains to be seen.
“Upholding S.B. 822 means upholding a free, open Internet for all Californians,” the EFF notes. “Without it, ISPs may have free rein to create two Internets that will be premised on how much income you have to the benefit of their own services and partners. With AT&T’s recent victory in the courts over the Department of Justice and the expiration of federal net neutrality rules, S.B. 822’s net neutrality protections have become more important than ever.”