Rep. McCarthy is Using Veterans as Pawns to Fight Net Neutrality. Don’t Fall for It

On Thursday, McCarthy and several other Republican lawmakers wrote a letter to California’s Public Utilities Commission concerned that California’s net neutrality law would impact a program started after California’s net neutrality law went into effect, where some wireless providers did not count the use of the VA’s telehealth app by veterans on limited plans against their data caps.

This is a non-issue. No benefit or program has been stopped, and the California Attorney General’s office has neither taken action nor threatened to.

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GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s newfound “realization,” one year into a pandemic, that broadband is an essential service and that people should have access to critical and lifesaving telemedicine, should make us all suspicious.

The California net neutrality law that I authored (SB822, 2018) is finally being implemented as the Trump administration and its legal apparatus, which subjected the law to constant legal challenges, become a thing of the past.

The truth is, McCarthy is only concerned about broadband and telemedicine access when it can be deployed as a cynical political tool to fight an open internet, which is what net neutrality enables.

When Verizon throttled California firefighters in the middle of our worst wildfire, McCarthy said nothing, even though he’s supposed to represent California. When Trump’s FCC tried to cut off internet and phone subsidies to tribal lands, McCarthy said nothing. When stories emerged of kids sitting in fast-food joints parking lots to use the wi-fi to do homework, McCarthy said nothing.

And now that President Biden’s proposed infrastructure and jobs plan includes a proposed $100 billion to help close the digital divide, McCarthy is railing against it calling that part of a “kitchen sink” of wasteful progressive demands.

All of that makes clear that McCarthy’s letter is simply a cheap political ploy that uses veterans to try to change a law he and his corporate donors don’t like. That should be beneath even McCarthy.

It’s also become increasingly clear that McCarthy does not understand net neutrality or this law.

First, McCarthy and his buddies sent a letter to the wrong people asking them not to implement the law.

The California Public Utilities Commission — the agency he wrote to — has no authority under this law and never had. California’s net neutrality law is enforced by the California Attorney General. McCarthy makes it painfully obvious that he can’t even be bothered to read the law he is complaining about, and that this is nothing more than a way to score political points with powerful phone and cable companies.

Second, McCarthy says the passage of California’s net neutrality law in 2018 shouldn’t “invalidate…partnerships”. That is, in fact, impossible, because the net neutrality law was passed and went into effect before the large telecom companies began working with Veterans Affairs.

Telecom companies spent millions to defeat this law (including by robocalling senior citizens scaring them into believing their phone bills would go up $30 a month), and only once it passed and was in effect, did they start this VA program, which they were fully aware was subject to California’s net neutrality law. The California Attorney General’s office was never notified of any issue.

Instead they waited two years, and then leaked this “concern” to the press. That’s not good faith.

No enforcement efforts or threats have been raised by the California Attorney General’s office.

McCarthy is trying to whip up outrage, and doing it on the backs of veterans.

Here’s what’s actually important: everyone should be able to go to the doctor, to school, or to work regardless of how much data and internet access they can afford. And when we go online, the companies we pay to provide this internet should not interfere with what we do or what websites or apps we use.

That’s what California’s net neutrality law ensures.

If McCarthy actually cared about veterans accessing the internet, he’d be placing calls to the CEOs of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile to get them to do something that actually matters. He would push them to create data plans for veterans that are truly affordable.

Veterans, like all of us, use a wide variety of apps (Skype, WebEx, Google Meet, BlueJeans, Facetime, Zoom, etc) to talk to their healthcare providers, including ones affiliated with the VA.

If McCarthy wanted to help veterans with health care access, he would push mobile carriers to create a program that helps veterans use all of these apps, not just the VA’s telehealth app, so they could get health care without worrying about their data cap.

And if McCarthy truly cared about everyone being able to see their doctor, do their work, go to school and stay in touch with loved ones, he’d be fighting to make broadband more affordable and support net neutrality. Instead he’s using veterans to fight common sense consumer protections and free giant telecom companies from any oversight, while fighting efforts to solve the real problems with online access.

Everyone deserves better than this, Californians and veterans especially.

CA State Senator. Urbanist. Environmentalist. Advocate for transit, housing, clean energy, criminal justice reform, health, ending poverty. Democrat. 🏳️‍🌈

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