Crap! will never, ever, ever buy AT&T services
AT&T wins again. As we’ve been noting, California had been making great progress in passing one of the toughest net neutrality state laws in the nation. Scott Weiner’s SB822 was called the “gold standard” for state-level net neutrality laws, going even a bit further than the FCC’s discarded 2015 rules in terms of policing anti-competitive behavior. It not only banned ISPs from blocking or throttling competitors’ websites, but it also prohibited ISPs like AT&T from using usage-caps anti-competitively, most commonly by exempting an ISP’s own content while still penalizing competitors like Netflix (aka zero rating).
AT&T, fresh off of its $86 billion merger with Time Warner, has dreams of using its combined new media and broadband market power to dominate competitors in the streaming video and online ad wars to come.
AT&T saw California’s restrictions as a serious threat to those ambitions. As a result, it did what the company always did: it used cash-compromised lawmakers to kill the legislation before it could truly come to pass.
AT&T this week first began circulating a misleading study by an AT&T-funded group named CALInnovates that claimed that preventing AT&T from abusing usage caps anti-competitively would somehow harm the state’s minority populations (absurd and decidedly false, it should go without saying). The California law didn’t ban zero rating, but it did require that if ISPs are to zero rate it should be for entire classes of traffic (like video), preventing ISPs from giving any one specific company an unfair advantage.
After AT&T had successfully confused lawmakers into misunderstanding zero rating, its lobbyists then convinced California Assemblyman Miguel Santiago to introduce a series of last-minute secretive Tuesday night amendments that severely weakened the original proposal. Those amendments eliminated rules governing usage caps and zero rating, interconnection and ISP efforts to double dip by charging companies “access fees” just to reach their broadband subscribers.
Santiago then quickly rushed the amendments through without letting the committee or the bill sponsor even discuss them. The amendments were approved 8-0 by a committee of four Democrats and four Republicans happy to work in perfect unison to give AT&T what it wanted. Wiener then pulled the bill entirely, noting the remaining scraps would not adequately protect California consumers.
“What the committee just did was outrageous,” Wiener said at the hearing. “These amendments eviscerated the bill–it is no longer a net neutrality bill. I will state for the record…I think it was fundamentally unfair.”
That’s a bit of an understatement, and net neutrality activist groups had notably less polite words for what occurred.
“The level of corruption we just witnessed literally makes me sick to my stomach, said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future. “These California democrats will go down in history as among the worst corporate shills that have ever held elected office.Californians should rise up and demand that at their Assembly members represent them. The actions of this committee today are an attack not just on net neutrality, but on our democracy.”
Weiner could try and reintroduce the legislation, but it would need to be passed, intact, by next Friday, something local activists tell me isn’t likely to happen. This isn’t likely the end of the fight for California’s efforts, though it does once again highlight the absurd power AT&T wields over state lawmakers, Republican and Democrat alike.