Kill AT&T’s California wireline exit bill, don’t bother tinkering with it

AT&T’s ongoing attempt to re-write California law so that it can replace rural wireline broadband and regulated telephone systems with unregulated wireless service is up for a vote in a key assembly committee on Wednesday. It’s opposed by the California Public Utilities Commission, among others. During the CPUC’s debate, commissioner Mike Florio said spike assembly bill 2395, don’t bother rewriting it…

In my legislative work over the years, there was an adage that I learned that you don’t amend a bad bill. I think this is a bad bill. It’s unclear, it’s terribly written, it confuses rather than clarifies. Is there potentially some different language that would be useful? Probably yes. But I don’t think is the place to start. If we want to make changes in [the public utilities code], we can propose a bill to do that, but this is a horrendous starting point.

The notion that this commission could stand by and watch, basically, the obligation to serve be eliminated, which is fundamental to the whole concept of public utility services, is kind of mind boggling to me. I don’t see that this bill is about copper versus fiber, I think this bill is about ‘is there an obligation on someone to serve or not?’ That is fundamental. We can’t have universal service if someone doesn’t have the obligation to serve in areas where no one else wants to.

AT&T is trying to generate support for the bill by claiming that its about upgrading 19th century copper phone technology to 21st century Internet protocols. Bullshit. There’s nothing stopping AT&T from doing that right now.

What the bill is about is 1. replacing rural copper with lower capacity, higher priced wireless service and 2. eliminating, to a very large extent, quality and transparency obligations along with open access requirements that allow at least some competition. In other words, AT&T is asking for an unregulated, taxpayer subsidised monopoly. The California legislature should say no.