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Net neutrality advocates held a rally in San Francisco in September to protest the federal rollback of net neutrality protections. (Photo: Credo Action/Flickr/cc)

Telecom-Backed Democrat in California Just "Mutilated" Nation's Strongest State Net Neutrality Bill

"These California Democrats will go down in history as among the worst corporate shills that have ever held elected office. Californians should rise up and demand that at their Assembly members represent them."

Jessica Corbett

Following a "major win" for open internet advocates in the California Senate last month, State Assemblyman Miguel Santiago provoked widespread outrage on Wednesday when he "rammed through" amendments that critics say "eviscerate" what "would have been the best net neutrality bill in the country."

"The level of corruption we just witnessed literally makes me sick to my stomach."
—Evan Greer,
Fight for the Future

"It is, with the amendments, a fake net neutrality bill," declared state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, who introduced the original legislation. Wiener said Santiago's amendments "mutilated" Senate Bill 822, which had passed the higher chamber despite fierce lobbying by the telecom industry.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Wiener is now withdrawing the bill:

Santiago's amendments, as CNET explained, "scaled back all the measures of the bill that had gone beyond the rules outlined in the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 regulation, which was officially taken off the books by the Trump administration's commission last week."

Since the California Senate victory in May, Santiago, chair of the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee, reportedly "has been the target of vigorous lobbying" by major internet service providers (ISPs). On Wednesday, he "bucked standard procedure" and held a vote on his amendments before the committee's hearing even began.

Wiener called the move "fundementally unfair" and even suggested that "it was a violation of the Assembly rules."

While Santiago's strategy shocked net neutrality supporters, his stance on the legislation did not. In recent days, advocates have issued urgent warnings that the California Democrat "is caving to pressure from AT&T and Comcast's lobbyists," pointing out that "Santiago has received more than $60,000 in funding from the telecom sector and AT&T is his #5 contributor over his Assembly career."

Demand Progress campaign director Robert Cruickshank said that with this vote—which "prioritized AT&T and Comcast's greed and campaign cash above the urgent need for net neutrality rules"—Santiago "has cemented his legacy as California's version of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai," a Trump-appointee with ties to the telecom industry who fought for the federal repeal based on "bogus" arguments.

"The level of corruption we just witnessed literally makes me sick to my stomach," responded deputy director of Fight for the Future Evan Greer. The committee's bipartisan 8-0 vote in favor of the amendments, she said, is "an embarrassment for both the Democratic Party and the California State Legislature as a whole" that "sends exactly the wrong message to other lawmakers across the country."

"These California Democrats will go down in history as among the worst corporate shills that have ever held elected office," Greer added. "Californians should rise up and demand that at their Assembly members represent them. The actions of this committee today are an attack not just on net neutrality, but on our democracy."

California residents are already calling on voters to force those who passed Santiago's amendments out of office.

Although telecom lobbying has, at least for now, thwarted the California bill—previously referred to as the "gold standard" for state-level net neutrality protections—while the U.S. House continues to stall a vote on a Senate-appoved Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would overturn the FCC's nationwide rollback, other states have enacted measures that aim to regulate ISPs. Advocates, however, maintain that the ultimate goal remains reversing the repeal and reinstating federal protections.

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