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

California State Senate building
The chairman of the Communications and Conveyance Committee, Democrat Miguel Santiago, is widely reported to have been significantly backed by AT&T, among other telecoms. (Shutterstock)

Lobbyists for Comcast and AT&T have reportedly made progress in their effort to stop California from passing a state net neutrality law even more potent than the FCC’s recently rolled-back Open Internet Order. 

A state assembly committee is meeting today to discuss a bill just passed by the California State Senate that would prohibit practices including zero rating. If the assembly passes the bill, it will wind up on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it into law.

However, the chairman of the Communications and Conveyance Committee, Democrat Miguel Santiago, is widely reported to have been significantly backed by AT&T, among other telecoms. Billed by one opponent as “California’s Chairman Pai”—a reference to the Republican FCC chairman who oversaw the rollback of Title II internet regulations—Santiago has introduced amendments to the assembly that would weaken SB 822.

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These amendments would permit zero rating and paid prioritization.

RELATED: Comcast, Charter, AT&T push back against California net neutrality rules

Santiago also rejected a plan executed yesterday by SB 822’s author, San Francisco Democratic State Senator Scott Wiener, to combine the bill with the similar SB 460, proposed by Los Angeles State Senator Kevin de Leon, thus easing the assembly’s passage of the net neutrality legislation. 

According to Fast Company, AT&T contributed $511,000 to the California Democratic Party in 2017 and $339,500 to the California Republican Party. The San Jose Mercury News, meanwhile, reports that telecom companies have collectively spent more than $1 million lobbying against SB 822. 

“Assembly member Santiago must put an end to rumors that he is acting on behalf of AT&T and other giant ISPs by attempting to sink the strongest net neutrality protections to be considered by a state, or he will quickly become known as California’s Chairman Pai,” said Mark Stanley, director of communications for Demand Progress, in a statement Tuesday.

Earlier this week, U.S. Reps. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, sent Santiago letters urging him to “maintain all the comprehensive protections in SB 822.” 

The bill also has the backing of Tom Wheeler, who authored the FCC’s 2015 Title II rules. 

“It’s unthinkable that California Democrats would even consider weakening an extremely popular net neutrality bill in the immediate wake of the FCC’s attack on our Internet freedom,” added Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights group with more than 350,000 members in California. 

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