Telcos rule in Sacto

Telcos rule in Sacto

Posted October 1st, 2017 by seanm

1 October 2017

By the close of the 2017 California State Legislature's session, broadband advocates for consumers, local governments and public interests suffered three important setbacks in Sacramento - and the private telecommunications industry dominated. Potential vetoes by Governor Brown are pending for two industry bills that passed.

SB 649 giving private industry rights over public property: Passed with veto pending.
AB 1665 converting a public benefit program to benefit industry: Passed with veto pending.
AB 375 protecting personal privacy from industry profiteers: Failed this year.

Sean McLaughlin, Access Humboldt Executive Director said, "We now know that the broadband provider industry, rooted in a history of monopoly dominance over the telecommunications marketplace, has captured California's legislature. That fact is revealed in three separate measures where consumer advocates and public interests stood in strong opposition and big telco industry interests dominated."

SB 649 was industry's proposal to increase profits while promising nothing - easily characterized as a private grab of public assets. Easing erection of "small cell" facilities wherever private companies want to build them was the incentive to speed wireless deployment - but no promises were made for any public benefit. The idea of giving private industry a right to use public property without fair consideration was universally opposed by local governments whose constituents pay to acquire and maintain easements and public rights of way. Local cities, County of Humboldt, along with local jurisdictions across the region and statewide were on the record early and often expressing opposition to the "Telecom Power Grab" (see Rural Counties Representative Council RCRC http://rcrcnet.org/barbed-wire-september-22-2017#story-1 , California State Association of Counties CSAC http://www.counties.org/csac-bulletin-article/legislative-session-wraps and League of California Cities LCC https://www.cacities.org/SB649 ) - to no avail.

Notably, in key hearings for SB 649 and AB 1665, Assemblymember Wood gave voice to industry talking points while Humboldt County Supervisor Rex Bohn for RCRC, and policy guru Connie Stewart at California Center for Rural Policy argued for local interests of rural communities. Only on the final vote, after passage was assured, Assemblymember Wood did change his position and vote against SB 649.

AB 1665 is a bit more complicated - authored as a thoughtful "Internet for All" proposal for public support to bridge the digital divide, the bill was perverted into a thoughtless gift to private interests for inferior service. Originally conceived to advance universal access by engaging local communities across our least connected regions, after effective lobbying by industry AB 1665 was inverted to lower the bar while disenfranchising local efforts in favor of distant private interests. Again local advocates were vocal in opposing changes to the bill. Assemblymember Wood supported the changes while State Senator Mike McGuire had the good sense to oppose this move.

California Broadband Internet Privacy Act (AB 375) is a clear cut public interest proposal supported by a big majority of folks, like 80% - protecting consumers' privacy and requiring that private information is shared only by permission of the individual. The failure of AB 375 appears due to a more passive aggression. In a rare moment of desperation to avoid a public vote, industry flacks ran false and misleading advertisements claiming that privacy protection would make folks more vulnerable to data theft, like the Equifax breach. This claim was quickly and easily disproven https://cdt.org/blog/privacy-protections-wont-make-you-more-vulnerable-t....

Industry-funded legislators ultimately managed to avoid a vote on the record, effectively killing privacy protection this year - though the bill might resurface next year. Electronic Frontier Foundation was leading efforts to adopt AB 375 https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/09/california-legislature-sells-out-o... . Again, State Senator Mike McGuire was a solid champion for public and consumer interests while strongly supporting this measure.

In each of these three cases the for-profit telecom industry won the day and consumers, local communities and public interests lost. If you care about universal access to open and secure networks, you should know how your State elected officials acted through the legislative process. These three measures taken up in Sacramento during 2017 can provide important actionable insight - in each case consumers, local communities and public interests were defeated by industry lobbying.

Access Humboldt will continue to engage with public policy toward the goal of universal access to open and secure networks. If you want more information, please contact us at info@accesshumboldt.net.

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Access Humboldt is a non-profit, community media organization serving the residents and local jurisdictions of Humboldt County on the North Coast, managing resources that include: cable access TV channels; KZZH FM 96.7 community radio; a wide area broadband network with dedicated optic fiber connections to twenty locations serving local jurisdictions and community anchor institutions; broadband access wireless networks; a Community Media Center with studio and other production equipment and training on the Eureka High School campus; and ongoing operational support for public, educational and governmental access media services.

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