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Democratic lawmaker guts California net neutrality bill

Democratic lawmaker guts California net neutrality bill


The amendments would have created loopholes for providers to throttle and block data

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A Democratic state lawmaker from California gutted the nation’s toughest net neutrality bill by railroading through standard procedure and forcing a vote on a set of amendments removing the stricter regulations.

On Monday, two California lawmakers struck a deal to combine two competing net neutrality bills in the hopes that it would speed through the committee process and provide the state with a stable net neutrality regulatory framework. The bills, SB 822 and SB 460, from Senators Scott Wiener and Kevin de León, respectively, were both introduced as responses to the Federal Communications Commission’s reversal of the 2015 Open Internet Order last December.

The bills were tougher on ISPs than the FCC had ever been

The lawmakers agreed to combine the two through a process known as “contingent enactment,” which requires both bills to be approved before either can go into effect. The bills were tougher on ISPs than the FCC’s original rules had ever been — a ban on zero-rating programs being a key difference.

The bills, especially Wiener’s SB 822, were opposed by several advocacy groups that receive funding from AT&T. CALinnovates, a partner of AT&T, sponsored dozens of ads on Facebook and Twitter disapproving of the bill.

“AT&T and other large internet service providers are engaging in a massive and expensive campaign to lobby members of the committee to kill or water down the bills,” Jeff Cretan, Sen. Wiener’s communications director said in a press release on Monday.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, chair of the Communications and Conveyance Committee, proposed his own amendments to the bill at the beginning of the meeting, morphing it into what Sen. Wiener called it a “fake net neutrality bill.” AT&T is one of Assemblyman Santiago’s top donors, according to advocacy group Fight for the Future.

Sen. Wiener called it a “fake net neutrality bill”

These amendments gutted the bill by creating loopholes that would allow ISP’s to charge websites “access fees” before customers could receive service and permit providers to throttle entire classes applications. The amendments also struck out a key staple of the Wiener bill, prohibiting providers from creating “zero-rating” services for consumers.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Anna Eshoo reached out to Santiago asking him not to bend to the intense lobbying efforts of AT&T and its peers in letters Wednesday morning. “We will not settle for the weak bills pushed by Republicans that eliminate crucial consumer protections and are net neutrality in name only,” Pelosi wrote. “Californians deserve the strong protections they had on the Internet until last week.”

During the hearing, Chairman Santiago limited the duration of statements members could make regarding the bill in its latest form. Within the time allotted, those members who approved of Wiener’s original measure hotly opposed the Santiago amendments and the manner in which he forced them onto the bill.

After discussion, Wiener announced that he would be withdrawing the bill as to not force a vote to approve the measure that no longer resembled the one he had passed last month. “The amendments that this committee imposed... are extreme amendments and gut the bill, and that’s why I couldn’t accept that,” Sen. Wiener said. “We all want a strong net neutrality bill going forward.”

Wiener was not allowed to withdraw the bill, and it was approved by the committee anyways.

Update 6/22/2018 1:21 PM EST: The article has been updated to include that the bill, SB 822, was eventually approved by the committee.