A campaign to stop net neutrality rules in California is targeting senior citizens with robocalls claiming that the rules will raise cell phone bills by $30 a month and slow down their data.
The robocalls cite no evidence supporting the claim that net neutrality rules will raise cell phone bills and slow down Internet service. The bill in question would impose net neutrality rules in California that are nearly identical to the ones the Federal Communications Commission had on the books between 2015 and 2018. Since the federal version of the rules did not raise cell phone bills by $30 or slow down Internet speeds, there's no reason to believe that imposing similar rules in California would have that effect.
The calls are being made on behalf of the Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC) and the Congress of California Seniors (CCS). CCS is backed by AT&T and Verizon, but it's not clear what CJAC's interest in the bill is. Verizon told Ars that it is not involved in the robocall campaign. AT&T declined to comment.
The robocall effort comes as the California State Assembly prepares to vote this week on the state's net neutrality bill, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). A vote could happen as soon as today.
"We're now dealing with a straight-up misinformation campaign on our #NetNeutrality bill, #SB822: industry robo-calls to seniors falsely telling them that protecting net neutrality will increase their phone bills by $30," Wiener wrote in a tweet. "Scaring seniors w lies about their financial security? Gross."
We're now dealing with a straight-up misinformation campaign on our #NetNeutrality bill, #SB822: industry robo-calls to seniors falsely telling them that protecting net neutrality will increase their phone bills by $30. Scaring seniors w lies about their financial security? Gross pic.twitter.com/1Lgop6KwSl
— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) August 25, 2018
Robocall offers “info about your cell phone bill”
A Motherboard article yesterday described the calls and posted a recording of one of them. The calls say:
I'm calling on behalf of the Civil Justice Association of California and the Congress of California Seniors with information about your cell phone bill. Right now, your Assemblymember will be voting on a proposal by San Francisco politicians that could increase your cell phone bill by $30 a month and slow down your data. We can't afford higher cell phone bills. We can't afford slower data. We can't afford Senate bill 822. Tell your Assemblymember we can't afford Senate bill 822. Press 1 now to be transferred to your Assemblymember's office so you can tell them to vote no on Senate bill 822.
CJAC's board of directors includes Apple, but Apple isn't likely to be involved in the robocall effort since the company opposed the FCC's repeal of net neutrality rules that banned blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.
We contacted CJAC and CCS to ask for evidence supporting their robocall claims and will provide an update if we get one.
Verizon said it is not involved in the anti-net neutrality robocalls. "We are not supporting this effort in California. We are not involved and our company is not engaged," the company told Ars. Verizon has been a long-time opponent of net neutrality rules, however.
An AT&T-backed group called CALinnovates has also been claiming that the net neutrality bill will hurt Internet users, while AT&T and cable industry lobbyists have been urging lawmakers to vote against the bill.
The net neutrality bill would prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or throttling lawful traffic. Requiring fees from websites or online services to deliver or prioritize their traffic to consumers would also be banned. The bill further imposes limits on data cap exemptions (zero-rating) and says that ISPs may not attempt to evade net neutrality protections by slowing down traffic at network interconnection points.