A key California Senate committee released its analysis of SB 822, California State Senator Scott Wiener’s bill to comprehensively restore the 2015 net neutrality protections that the FCC voted to abolish in 2017. The analysis is a frontal assault on net neutrality. Sadly, the analysis from the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications looks like ISPs wrote it and shows that ISPs have a powerful corrupting influence even in the Democratic-controlled legislature in California.
"It’s outrageous that California democrats would produce a document that looks like it was literally written by lobbyists for AT&T and Comcast. They’re calling for giant loopholes that would gut SB 822 and leave California residents vulnerable to ISP scams and abuses," said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights group with more than 350,000 members in California, "These senators need to know that the entire Internet is watching them, and will not forget if they side with giant telecom monopolies over the basic rights of their constituents."
The legislative analysis, which comes a day before the bill’s hearing, recommends gutting key protections, opening up two huge and known loopholes that will allow ISPs to get around net neutrality protections.
Specifically the analysis finds that:
1) ISPs should be allowed to charge, block or slow down websites or services at the point of interconnection, where data that ISP subscribers request from online services enter the ISP’s network, and
2) That ISPs should be allowed to create all manners of zero-rating plans, including not counting data from an ISP’s own services against users’ data caps or charging online sites so that their data doesn’t count against user data caps.
- After the 2010 order came out, ISPs realized they could block, throttle and charge online services by simply not increasing the size of the pipes coming into their networks and waiting for online services to pay them to open them. That meant that the services that ISP subscribers wanted to use would simply not work or be very slow – despite paying their ISP to use any and all applications on the internet.
- This behavior was so widespread that it affected tens of millions of Americans who couldn’t understand why, despite paying for an expensive fast connection, they couldn’t telecommute or play League of Legends online. New York’s Attorney General is suing TimeWarner Cable for lying to subscribers by promising them fast online videos and gaming, while secretly making sure those services went slowly
- This slowness would stop only if online companies paid the ISP’s ransom. For those that refused to pay, it only stopped in 2015 when the FCC’s Open Internet Order said it would police interconnection agreements to make sure that ISPs weren’t using them to circumvent net neutrality
- Any net neutrality bill that doesn’t ban circumvention at the ISPs’ edges is not a real net neutrality bill.
Zero-rating is the practice of not counting some data against users monthly data caps. While there are some ways to do this without damaging net neutrality and hurting startups and speakers without deep-pockets, ISPs use this as a way to make the sites they own more attractive than competitors and to get paid by giant online companies who can prevent new competitors.
- The California bill struck a balance that allowed some zero rating, banned the worst kinds, and made others subject to scrutiny to make sure they didn’t distort competition and discourage startups and minority voices.
- This mirrors the FCC approach in 2015, where the FCC said it would look closely at such programs and was preparing to release a report on the practices after the 2017 elections. However, the new FCC chief Ajit Pai killed off that report.
- ISPs want no oversight of zero-rating and the California Committee appears to agree with Chairman Pai.