California lawmakers promised to introduce the "strongest net neutrality protections in the nation" on Thursday morning, just weeks after a key piece of the legislation was gutted at the committee stage, sparking online fury.
Four lawmakers gave a joint press conference in Sacramento announcing a new plan, which sounds exactly like the old plan, with bans on blocking, throttling, access fees, and "abusive" zero rating – the practice of not counting network traffic from certain blessed services in monthly download allowances.
The main sponsors of the legislation, Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) and Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), were joined by Senate president Kevin de Leon and, critically, Miguel Santiago – the committee chairman that controversially gutted the legislation in a vote that Weiner at the time called "outrageous."
It's fair to say that Santiago (D-Los Angeles) wasn't expecting the critical backlash his actions caused. He looked distinctly nervous on Thursday, rubbing his hands and face, as Weiner and De Leon walked through the fact that the due to the legislative recess the new bill will now not be considered until the first week in August.
In fact the entire press conference appears to have been called to protect Miguel Santiago's political career, as well as dampen down fury over what was an unpleasant reminder that lobbyists control much of what happens in Sacramento.
Video of Weiner's fury at the communications committee meeting went viral and showed a vote on a series of amendments that had only been released the night before being held before the hearing had even started.
As chair, Santiago became an instant scapegoat for the corrupting influence of big corporations; the seven other committee members that voted to approve the hostile amendments seem to have escaped the same degree of public attention.
But in public today it was all sweetness and light, with Weiner, de Leon and Bonta going out their way to praise Santiago's leadership. A series of terrible excuses were given to explain the committee's gutting of the bill. Santiago insisted it was simply a matter of having "run out of time," whereas Weiner kept reiterating that he and Santiago had agreed at the same contentious meeting that they would "work together" to craft a new bill.
But no one was buying it, leading to lots of comments about how the legislative process "is not always perfectly clean and linear" (Weiner) and how it "works in zigs and zags" (Bonta).
Big Cable unplugs Cali's draft net neutrality protections yet AGAINREAD MORE
But if anyone was in any doubt that the sudden turnaround was anything other than political realities hitting home as tens of thousands of voters contacted their representatives to protest Santiago's actions and insist they pass net neutrality rules, it came when Weiner invited several members of net neutrality advocacy groups up to the podium at the end of the lawmakers' comments.
The lead lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Ernesto Falcon, continued the theme of no-hard-feelings when he alluded to the committee vote as a "brief setback" and noted that Santiago had subsequently "listened to his constituents."
As to the actual contents on the revised bill that will now be released in August 6, Wiener repeatedly stated that everything that was in his original bill will be in the revised version, including the same definitions of the particularly contentious issue of "zero rating."
Asked what will actually be the difference following the revisions, Weiner said only that it would have "a different physical look to it."
Despite enjoying their moment of victory, however, the lawmakers warned that the fight was far from over. "We are not out of the woods," Wiener noted. "This is going to be a fight. The telecoms and cable companies fight hard and they are effective. We have our work cut out for us."
Falcon was defiant. "The question is how long AT&T and Comcast can engage in a misinformation campaign," he said. "How long can they pretend that their practices are good for users? How can they convince Assembly members to vote against something that 80 per cent of voters approve of?"
De Leon spoke directly to Big Cable lobbyists when he boldly stated: "We will outlast you and we will out negotiate you."
As for Santiago, he decided to adopt an entirely different tack for why net neutrality rules were necessary - one that is likely to feature in upcoming elections: that Republicans and the Trump Administration were trying to control the spread of information and so limit progressive politics.
"We need to be able to provide people with information – and that's what this is all about," he argued. "The Trump Administration destroyed the internet… and pushed past measures to keep us in the dark."
But with the new neutrality bill that he now loves "California will lead once again." And he even claimed that if "red states" don't adopt similar measures then "we are going to flip some of those states."
In other words, after a brief bit of ugliness as corporate influence was laid bare, it was back to partisan politics as usual. ®