The Verizon horizon

Sacramento mayor is bullish about Verizon partnership and silent on company’s opposition to net neutrality

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the October 4, 2018, issue.

Verizon’s publicists were hard at work this week spreading news that the world’s first commercial 5G network had just gone live in Sacramento. At the same moment, Gov. Jerry Brown’s office was fielding calls from reporters about the Trump-appointed chair of the Federal Communications Commission suing California for its new law protecting net neutrality—something Verizon has spent millions trying to kill.

Verizon’s press release touting Sacramento’s new 5G network was issued October 1. In it, Verizon said the network allowed homes and businesses to install the next generation of “super-fast wifi,” which can play a role in drawing new companies and investment to the area. “Sacramento worked proactively with Verizon for the past year to install small cells on more than 200 utilities poles and street lights,” a Verizon spokesperson wrote in a statement.

In a statement, Mayor Darrell Steinberg hailed the network’s unveiling as “a significant day in Sacramento,” adding he thought it would bring “investments on equity and economic opportunity” to all neighborhoods.

But conservationists, consumer advocates and privacy watchdogs haven’t been so enamored with the city’s decision to give Verizon unfettered access to its telecommunication infrastructure. That’s because of Verizon’s recent track record. Complaints against the company range from dropping coverage in rural counties and planting cell towers in Yosemite National Park, to selling customers’ online search data without consent and allowing massive breaches of users’ personal information.

Just as Verizon was pushing its 5G narrative in Sacramento, the Jeff Sessions Justice Department announced it was suing the state at the behest of Ajit Pai, the Trump-appointed FCC chair. Pai is a former Verizon attorney and Trump’s key player in rolling back federal net neutrality protections in 2017. Prior to that, Verizon spent millions lobbying against net neutrality.

On September 29, Brown signed Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill restoring the lost protections in California. The next day, as Steinberg lauded Verizon, Brown and Wiener learned they were headed to court on behalf of Californians to combat a future of pay-to-play, corporate-controlled internet access that was crafted in no small part by Verizon.