Update, June 16: In response to pressure from advocates, A.B. 2749's bans on affordability have been removed from the bill.
The California Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee will soon be the first to consider new and terrible amendments to Assemblymember Quirk-Silva’s A.B. 2749—which is backed by AT&T and other telecommunications interests. The legislation would prohibit the state from implementing affordable broadband rules for broadband companies receiving state subsidies as part of the new California infrastructure law, S.B. 156. This is despite the fact that California taxpayers—not the industry—are paying to build these networks.
An affordability requirement is crucial because this will be the only broadband access point for these Californians, and it's likely they will be subject to monopolistic pricing practices. A University of California-Berkeley study found that rural Californians facing a Frontier monopoly were paying rates more than four times higher than in areas with competitive markets. Under an AT&T monopoly, they paid rates more than three time higher. On average, Americans living in areas with only one or two ISPs pay prices five times higher than those in areas with competition in the market. Given what we've already seen in these areas across the state, we can guess these are similar to prices that Californians will face if A.B. 2749 becomes law.
The bill would also undermine the federal fiber infrastructure plan the Biden Administration released in May by allowing inferior non-fiber solutions to be equally eligible for state subsidies. This is a mistake federal and California legislators have made before, wasting billions of dollars. A.B. 2749 would prevent California from merging money from the state’s infrastructure plan with the funds from the new federal infrastructure plan to deliver high-quality access to underserved and unserved populations. Because the federal law also requires states to establish affordability rules for broadband access, California would be unable to fully leverage the federal funding if A.B. 2749 became law.
To read a detailed legal analysis of the legislation, EFF filed the following letter with the Senate Utilities Committee. EFF also submitted this letter explaining why it makes sense to require fiber networks financed with public money to be subject to basic affordability rules.
Passing A.B. 2749 would unwind the promise of California’s infrastructure law to promote local, affordable future- proof access to the internet. It would also undermine the amazing array of local efforts happening all across the state to deliver affordable solutions by allowing major corporations a chance to capture the dollars without conditions. To stop that from happening, we need California lawmakers to hear why you oppose the bill.
If you are a California based business, non-profit, organization, or local elected official, EFF is collecting signers here to join us in telling the legislature we oppose the bill.
We’ve won many broadband victories in the past. We can do it again here.
Consumers Have Been Winning in Sacramento. Don’t Let the Empire Strike Back.
Large internet service providers (ISPs) such as AT&T have historically had their way in Sacramento when it comes to telecom law and policy. Ten years ago, they were granted laws that gave them $300 million to pay for increasingly obsolete technology. They also influenced policymakers to secure wide-reaching deregulation and even banned cities from building their own broadband. But the winds started to shift in 2018 after the Federal Communications Commission, then under the Trump Administration, repealed national network neutrality rules. That prompted California to pass its own net neutrality law, S.B. 822, which was introduced by State Senator Scott Wiener.
Every year since then, there has a been successful, pro-consumer effort in Sacramento. In 2018, California repealed the last of its anti-municipal broadband laws with Former Assemblymember Chau’s A.B. 1999. In 2019, the California legislature restored regulation of broadband carriers at the California Public Utilities Commission by not moving forward with A.B. 1366. It also passed new rules in response to firefighters' broadband services being throttled by Verizon during a state emergency (A.B. 1699). Most recently, in response to the COVID pandemic, California passed a package of landmark bills including Senator Lena Gonzalez’s S.B. 4 and Governor Newsom’s budget bill S.B. 156. These set up funding to invest enough money to deliver future-proof fiber infrastructure to nearly every Californian. It was the largest investment in public broadband infrastructure of any U.S. State and was the result of a two-year effort from advocates.
California has made incredible progress for consumer broadband access, and industry incumbents have opposed every single one of these proposals. Now they’re back at it again with Assemblymember Quirk-Silva’s A.B. 2749. Local efforts to promote competition in communities across California are beginning to take root, and ISPs want to stop them before it’s too late. Don’t let them get their way again. Tell your lawmakers to oppose A.B. 2479.