Comcast and AT&T win bid to neuter California net neutrality law

California
California has been one of a number of states that has responded to the FCC’s rollback of federal net neutrality legislation by trying to pass rules on the state level. (Makaristos/Wikipedia)

The author of a California Senate Bill mandating state net neutrality rules aims to go back to the drawing board after a committee chair, whose campaign was underwritten by Comcast and AT&T, neutered the bill in the State Assembly.

California has been one of a number of states that has responded to the FCC’s rollback of federal net neutrality legislation by trying to pass rules on the state level. (The San Jose Mercury News has been tracking this story.)

California State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) authored a bill that Comcast and AT&T said was even stricter than the 2015 Open Internet order recently overridden by the Republican-led FCC. 

RELATED: Will Comcast, AT&T stop state net neutrality bill with help from ‘California’s Chairman Pai’?

However, Senate Bill 822 was watered down in the State Assembly’s Communications Committee, which is chaired by Democratic State Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, who one consumer group recently called “California’s Chairman Pai” (a reference, of course, to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who led the agency’s net neutrality rollback).

The committee voted to strip away rules in SB 822 that prohibit paid prioritization and zero rating.

Opponents accuse Santiago of corporate ties to telecom companies, some of whom have underwritten his campaign. They say Santiago’s decision to hold a vote on the bill before any testimony occurred is further proof he’s supporting corporate interest.

In a statement, Santiago said he was merely trying to pass a bill that will withstand legal challenges from telecom companies.

“I wanted to engage in a serious policy conversation and deliver a bill that could withstand legal challenges from the telecommunications industry—an industry that sued to block implementation of the 2015 FCC Order implemented under President Obama; most definitely an industry that will sue to block implementation of landmark net neutrality protections in California,” Santiago said.

For his part, Weiner said he has no interest in the bill being passed in its current form. His goal now is to pull it back out of committee and put the teeth back into it.

“To be clear, if the bill ultimately remains in its current form, I will withdraw it, as I have no desire to pass a fake net neutrality bill,” Weiner said in a statement. “But my sincere hope is that we will be able to amend it in the near future back into a strong form.”

The setback—or victory, depending what side you’re on—came as Alaska Governor Bill Walker refused to sign an executive order implementing the 50th state's own net neutrality rules.

A bipartisan group of 24 state lawmakers had asked him to place net neutrality restrictions on ISPs that do business with state agencies. 

"Like you, I have been concerned with the actions taken by the Federal Communication Commission regarding the repeal of net neutrality," Walker said in a statement obtained by the Anchorage Daily News. "However, after looking at the legal hurdles the State faces by being in conflict with a program that very likely federally preempts states' laws, and considering circumstances that already exist within Alaska, I am taking some alternative steps to address this issue."

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