Big Telecom is once again trying to disrupt a net neutrality bill in California, this time by robocalling seniors to spread misinformation about the bill.
“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 a voice on an automated call paid for by legal reform group the Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC). “We can't afford higher cell phone bills. We can't afford slower data. We can't afford Senate Bill 822.”
The call urges constituents to contact their state representative and ask them to vote no on the bill, which passed a senate committee last week and will be heard in the Assembly this week. It even provides an option to automatically connect to the recipients’ Assembly member. At the top of the call, it cites the non-profit Congress of California Seniors, leading many—including state senator Scott Wiener, the net neutrality bill’s author—to believe the calls are targeting senior citizens specifically.
“The industry has engaged in a massive misinformation campaign around this bill for months,” Wiener told me over the phone.
But the claim that cell phone bills will go up is not based on anything in the actual bill, which would simply restore the federal rules that telecom companies operated under from 2015 until the 2017 repeal, which only went into effect a few months ago. The bill enshrines the fundamentals of net neutrality, such as prohibiting ISPs from throttling or blocking sites, but also prohibits other telecom trickery, such as zero rating—a practice where companies provide access to certain parts of the internet for “free” and charge for others.
CJAC typically lobbies for legislation that will reduce the number of lawsuits filed against companies in the state, but it has recently been directing funds to oppose the net neutrality proposal. Its political arm—called FairPAC—has financial ties to AT&T, according to the Federal Election Commission. CJAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
CJAC’s robocalls ares not the only campaign spreading scary claims about soaring cell phone bills: ads on Facebook and Twitter, as well as physical flyers opposing the net neutrality bill and paid for by AT&T-backed advocacy group CALInnovates have been reported across California.
“The reality is that they’ve already lived under these rules under the 2015 Obama order and they did really well: they made huge profits, they weren’t laying off workers, they weren’t jacking up people’s bills,” Wiener said. “This is just all played-up misinformation.”
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