ISPs are engaged in a last gasp effort to scuttle California’s looming net neutrality law, including a zero hour request for employees to lend a hand. Last week the law, SB822, was passed by both the California Assembly and the Senate after massive public pressure. It currently awaits signature by California Governor Jerry Brown.
ISPs had attempted to scuttle the bill’s passage via a cavalcade of underhanded lobbying shenanigans, ranging from efforts to strip away its most important components in committee, to ISP-backed robocalls aimed at senior citizens falsely informing them the bill would raise their phone bills. With those efforts failing to gain traction in activist-heavy California, ISPs like Frontier Communications have now taken to begging their employees to oppose the law. An email by Frontier to its employees obtained by Motherboard urges workers to contact Governor Brown and demand he veto SB822, which the company claims would “disrupt the incredibly successful Internet system that fuels business, innovation and economic growth in California.”
The email directs users to an online form letter to Brown claiming that Frontier “supports an open Internet,” but that the bill will “create significant new costs for consumers, hinder network investment and delay Frontier’s hard work to help close the Digital Divide in California.” Except Frontier’s “support” for net neutrality has involved participating in a coalition of ISPs that repeatedly sued the FCC over its modest rules. And claims that net neutrality somehow harms network investment have been repeatedly, painstakingly debunked using public SEC filings, ISP earnings reports, and countless public statements by ISP executives themselves. The email, which notes that employee participation is voluntary, contains numerous other unsubstantiated allegations, including one claim that the bill would somehow create “free internet for big users like Netflix and Google.”
Frontier did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Frontier, which provides broadband service in 29 states, has faced a series of scandals in West Virginia alleging that the company routinely wasted taxpayer dollars and misrepresented how those funds were utilized. The employee email campaign is part of a larger last minute lobbying effort by ISPs in the state to derail the looming law. Net neutrality activists tell me that CTIA (the wireless industry’s top lobbying organization), Comcast and AT&T all held meetings in Governor Brown’s office on Monday in a bid to convince him to kill the bill before it can become law. The threat isn’t empty, given that Brown has a bit of a track record vetoing state legislation that has the broad support of the public he was elected to represent.
“Governor Brown has a long history of vetoing legislation that you might think he'd totally support, including bills that exercise state power as a way to get back at the Trump administration,” said Ryan Singel, a former journalist and fellow at the Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society. In this case, a Brown veto would be certain to anger California residents, given the overwhelming, bipartisan majority of Americans support such rules. Such a veto would only further cement the public perception that their interests play second fiddle to the desires of deep-pocketed telecom monopolies like AT&T, Verizon, Frontier and Comcast.