Right now, there’s a net neutrality bill being considered in California. I talked about this in an earlier post, but SB 822 still faces hurdles in the California Assembly. One of the hurdles it has faced recently was in the Communications and Conveyance Committee last month. Now, it appears that the bill may be back on track, but I do not trust a few of the actors involved.
What Happened in June?
On Monday, June 18, 2018, California Assemblyman Miguel Santiago was called out for not supporting SB822, the bill to restore net neutrality in the state.
Santiago is a Democrat representing the 53rd State Assembly District and he severs as the Chairman of the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee. In that capacity, he had the ability to alter the bill before it was voted on by the entire Assembly.
Before the committee held the meeting on the bill, Santiago was even called out by Nancy Pelosi, to no avail.
That’s because when the bill was coming up for a vote in the committee, Santiago had already gutted the bill on Tuesday, June 19. And on Wednesday, June 20, Santiago rushed through a vote on the bill before a hearing was held. This shocked Scott Weiner, the state senator who authored SB 822 and was in the committee room in order to speak in favor of his bill. He called the changed bill a fake net neutrality bill.
The Changes Santiago Made to the Bill
Santiago’s version of SB 822 took out clauses that dealt with throttling, paid prioritization, and zero rating. In short, if Santiago’s version of the bill was passed, that meant that internet service providers (ISPs) would be able to:
- Charge websites in order to allow end users to access those websites.
- Slow down or block traffic to those websites at the point where the data would enter the network.
- Continue zero rating practices, whereby the services they provide would not count against the data cap for certain users who have such phone and internet plans.
As stated in numerous articles, this is big because these ISPs are so big after acquiring other media companies, like those that create content. For example, since AT&T now owns Time Warner (which owns CNN and HBO), AT&T would have an even bigger advantage with its content and data plans.
Also, the bill, if passed with the changes, would hurt customers, newer websites, and small businesses. Customers would likely be charged more for faster internet lanes and lose a degree a consumer choice (as if they had a lot since there are many areas where only 1-2 ISPs provide service). Newer websites and small business owners would suffer because they likely couldn’t pay the tolls to allow easier access to their online content.
The People Who Voted in Favor of the Changes
The changed bill was approved by the committee by an 8-0 vote, with 2 abstentions. all Democrats (including Santiago) voted with Republicans.
Here are the names of the committee members who voted for the watered-down legislation:
- Eduardo Garcia
- Evan Low
- Sharon Quirk-Silva
- Sabrina Cervantes
- Freddie Rodriguez
- Brian Maienschein
- Sydney Kamlager-Dove
Why People Were Worried About Santiago
People were worried about what Santiago would do because is quite possible that he would do the bidding of some of his donors. When I checked Santiago’s Vote Smart page on Sunday, June 24, 2018, Santiago’s top five donors were the following companies:
- Southern California Pipe Trades District Council 16 ($17,600.00)
- Amalgamated Transit Union Local ($17,600.00)
- State Building & Construction Trades Council of California ($11,800.00)
- Electrical Workers Local 11 ($10,000.00)
- AT&T ($8,000.00)
Over his entire career, Santiago has received $845,751.19 from all donors and $707,457.52 of it came from within the state. When categorized, the telecom services & equipment sector ranked fourth among his collective donors. Santiago has received $43,900 lifetime from telecom companies and as you can see, AT&T is his #5 top donor over his Assembly career.
What’s Happening Now?
Amid public pressure, Santiago changed his tune. Last week, there was news that Weiner had negotiated with numerous Assembly members to restore the core protections of his bill. Mike Figueredo (the host of The Humanist Report) covered this today:
According to Weiner, there was a compromise and as part of that compromise, the legislation would retain all the protections of the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order. However, Weiner agreed to take out a part of the bill that made his legislation even stronger than the Open Internet Order. From Ars Technica:
Wiener’s office told Ars that the compromise version will remove a ban on “application-specific differential pricing,” which the bill defined as “charging different prices for Internet traffic to customers on the basis of Internet content, application, service, or device, or class of Internet content, application, service, or device, but does not include zero-rating.”
The revised legislation will not be revealed until August 6, but the Assembly has until August 31 to vote on the bill and have it signed by outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown.
What Should Voters Do?
This would be the part where I make some endorsements, but I have a very bad track record lately when it comes to endorsements. While there were good results this primary season that I rooted for, many of the people I specifically named have lost — but all those people in Santiago’s bill who voted for the changes he made in June need to pay a political price.
I will point out that this is an election year, so all those Assembly seats are in contention. Now, I wouldn’t advocate replacing all the Democrats, based on who their competitors are. However, if they are willing to do what they did, what good are they?
If I was a resident in AD 53, I would try to vote out Miguel Santiago because that is one of the safest bets to make. Thanks to the jungle primary, Santiago is going against another Democrat named Kevin Yang, and Yang has expressed his support for net neutrality. (By the way, there is a similar for Anthony Rendon, the Assemblyman in AD 63 who killed California’s Single-Payer bill in 2017. Santiago has been compared to Rendon because of what happened with this net neutrality bill.)
Am I Being Too Harsh?
Now, I know this might sound rash to some people, but I wouldn’t trust Santiago as far as I can throw him. Even Lauren Steiner, an activist and YouTuber I follow, thinks that Santiago is one of the good ones based on his past votes.
Fight for the Future also backed down a bit and promised to take the funds they raised for a billboard and repurpose them.
Ultimately, I agree with Mike Figueredo here. He’s done some amazing work covering net neutrality across the country through his YouTube Channel and he’s very passionate about this and many other topics. We shouldn’t back down.
No, I’m Not Being Too Harsh.
Even if Santiago has a progressive voting record, none of the things he voted for in the past would have impacted him negatively. The net neutrality bill is a different animal and I think he showed his true colors in June when he gutted the bill and rushed it to a vote before a proper hearing on it could be held. That shows us that he is willing to do the bidding of his top donors, so no, I don’t trust him.
The bill hasn’t been passed by the assembly yet and there still time for shenanigans. If Santiago — who may have finally realized that his seat was up for grabs — is not the fall guy, someone else will be in order to make him look better by comparison and help him keep his seat. Thus, I think that this compromise is a Hail Mary being thrown by Santiago.
Okay, let’s say that this bill is passed with most of the protections in place. Sure, ISPs will sue, but California will have a strong net neutrality bill in the meantime.
However, what will Santiago do should he retain his seat? He will be term-limited in the Assembly so he could do whatever he wants to help ISPs in his chamber and weaken the law or push for other laws that help his donors. Then, if Santiago doesn’t kill his future state Senate career, he will likely be hired as some lobbyist for one of those ISPs he helped.
The folks at Fight for the Future should keep this in mind. In fact, I think they should take the funds they raised for a billboard and use it to make sure more people know about Kevin Yang. We should give him a chance because Santiago just showed us who he is.
Why Do I Feel This Way?
I’m at this point where I have lost my patience with certain lawmakers. I am sick and tired of intellectually dishonest, feckless Democrats. California is supposed to be a deep-blue, progressive state, but we have our share of crooks and corporatists gumming up the works. The Democrats are supposed to be an opposition party to a particularly craven, spiteful, and vindictive Republican Party, but with “friends” like Santiago and Rendon, who needs enemies?