California is currently moving at speed to pass a state-wide net neutrality bill that would give the state’s residents some of the strongest protections in the country. Naturally, telecoms companies are running scared: The CTIA, one of the telecoms industry’s key lobbyists, described the bill as a “flawed and consumer unfriendly approach” in a recent statement, and online and physical ads have been circulated by telecoms firms in a bid to change public opinion — which is heavily in favor of net neutrality.
In the latest twist, California advocacy groups including the Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC) and the Congress of California Seniors (CCS) — which have financial ties to AT&T and Verizon — have been funding robocalls which appear to target seniors, telling them that the net neutrality bill will slow down data and raise cell bills.
“Your Assembly member will be voting on a proposal by San Francisco politicians that could increase your cellphone bill by $30 a month and slow down your data,” says one robocall recorded by Motherboard. “We can’t afford higher cell phone bills. We can’t afford slower data. We can’t afford Senate Bill 822.”
Given that net neutrality is almost universally popular, and robocalls are the scourge of everyone who owns a cellphone, I’m not entirely sure why this tactic was expected to work. Of course, things are easier when you lie — there’s zero evidence that the extra regulation introduced by net neutrality would increase prices or slow down data, and in reality, the opposite will likely be true.
The bill would restore many of the provisions in then 2015 Open Internet Order that the FCC recently repealed, such as preventing paid prioritization and stopping ISPs from blocking or throttling lawful traffic. It also takes things a step further with restrictions on zero-rating and congesting traffic at network interconnection points.
If the bill makes it all the way through both houses and is signed into law, it’s likely to face a complicated legal battle from telecoms providers. Under normal circumstances, FCC rules surrounding net neutrality would pre-empt any state law, making the California bill toothless. However, the mechanism that the FCC used to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order didn’t just remove the net neutrality rules; it stripped the FCC of its own enforcement power, meaning that states may be able to write their own net neutrality legislation.