Net neutrality advocates freak out as lobbyists pull rug from California's draft net neutrality law

Legislation 'could have been written by AT&T and Comcast'

freak out

An effort to pass net neutrality legislation at the California state level is in doubt after an official analysis of the proposed bill recommend pulling out two key measures.

Net neutrality advocates exploded when the analysis, written by the US state's Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications in Sacramento, was published.

"It's outrageous that California democrats would produce a document that looks like it was literally written by lobbyists for AT&T and Comcast," bellowed the deputy director of pressure group Fight for the Future. "They're calling for giant loopholes that would gut SB 822 and leave California residents vulnerable to ISP scams and abuses," he continued.

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SB 822 is the second effort that Californian lawmakers have put forward in an effort to push back against the decision by the FCC in Washington DC to throw out existing rules that cover what broadband providers are, and are not, allowed to do with the online content they supply over their connections.

An earlier effort – SB 640 – was passed by the California Senate at the end of January but remains "held at desk" – presumably over warnings that it is unlikely to survive an inevitable legal challenge by Big Cable.

As such, SB 822 was introduced as a way to enforce net neutrality in California by using state rules and laws, making it harder to challenge at a federal level.

Last-minute punch

Except, the analysis [PDF] of the legislation – coming one day before a planned hearing on Tuesday – concludes that ISPs should be allowed to charge, block or slow down online content.

That goes directly against the intent of the bill but the analysis argues that the bill as currently worded would "prohibit peering agreements" and that "could increase cost pressures for consumers" in the long term.

It also claims that those increased costs would "disproportionately impact lower-income Californians and increase needs for universal service programs that supply broadband access at affordable rates."

Fight for the Future is not impressed, arguing that "any net neutrality bill that doesn't ban circumvention at the ISPs' edges is not a real net neutrality bill."

The legislative analysis also argued that broadband providers should be able to offer so-called "zero rating" plans where an ISP can decide that certain services do not count against a data cap: something that net neutrality advocates say will encourage ISPs to offer companies willing to pay an effective boost.

Long term

The analysis claims that prohibiting this kind of deal "may also have the unintended consequence of increasing some consumers’ costs." Again, it claims this would only be in the "long term" and that poorer citizens would be hit hardest – an argument designed to get Democrats on board.

From the analysis: "To the extent that sponsored data plans provide consumers with more access to data at a lower cost, prohibiting beneficial forms of zero-rating could increase consumers’ data costs in the long-term. Low-income Californians who more heavily rely on mobile devices in lieu of fixed services could be disproportionately impacted."

The analysis argues that the FCC was unsure about zero-rating services and had decided to look at it on a case-by-case basis. Which is true, although the FCC had started to come down hard on the approach and even had a report prepared that was going to be extremely critical of zero-rating. But then the election happened, Republican Ajit Pai took over as FCC chair and promptly killed it.

In short, it's special interests politics as usual: lobbyists have worked the system behind the scenes, resulting in a legislative analysis that would effectively eliminate what the bill hopes to achieve.

The hearing for SB 822 is planned Tuesday. It may be a fiery affair. ®

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