Tag Archives: ab2395

California broadband rodeo kicks off again


But no room for a working clown.

Strap in for the ride – 2017 is shaping up to be a Bizarro rerun of 2016, at least where broadband policy is concerned. Last year’s most contentious policy broncos are in the chute, ready for another go round with a new cast of cowboys in Washington and Sacramento.

Top draw is common carrier status for broadband service, also known as title II, AKA net neutrality. The republican rump majority on the Federal Communications Commission – Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly – have targeted the Obama administration’s marquee telecoms policy initiative for a preemptive weed whacking. That 2015 decision isn’t settled law yet – court appeals continue – but at one point last year it looked like it was in the bag.

No longer.

Here in Deep Blue California, we don’t use anything as crude as a weed whacker – we legalised weed, dammit – but last year’s battles are shaping up to be refought as well.

The California assembly has hived off telecoms policy into the communications and conveyance committee; transportation and telecoms are the two sectors that are being tugged out from under the California Public Utilities Commission’s purview. A radical jurisdictional realignment is a step too far for this year, but you can expect two key rematches and one overtime attempt at running up the score.

Bet on AT&T to redouble its effort to write its own permission slip to yank out wireline service wherever it fails to meet profit goals in rural and inner city California. Assembly bill 2395 died last year due, in no small part due to union opposition, but expect to see it rise from the grave. Several different attempts at topping up the California Advanced Services Fund – the state’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program – also went down in flames last year, but another try is underway.

The legislature and governor signed off on a bill in 2015 that puts a tight shot clock on wireless permit reviews by local governments, but it’s not permissive enough for wireless carriers, or wireless infrastructure companies like Mobilitie. Efforts are underway in both Sacramento and Washington to continue the roll back of local discretion.

My predictions: common carrier status for broadband will survive 2017 but maybe not 2018. The CASF reboot will be fought to a draw again and the legislature will make it easier for mobile carriers to install small cells and other wireless facilities. Son of AB 2395 is a toss up. If AT&T makes sufficient concessions to pull the unions onside, it’ll fly. If not, expect to see it for a third time in 2018.

Happy New Year.

AT&T copper network replacement presentation video posted

AT&T’s plan to replace rural copper networks in California with a fixed wireless broadband service running at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds was presented to the Eldorado County board of supervisors two days ago, on 13 September 2016. The conversion will be subsidised by the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund phase 2 program, which will give AT&T $360 million in California alone, and $2.6 billion nationwide.

The video was streamed live, and I’ve posted a recording to YouTube. It begins a short time into the presentation, because the county’s feed began while it was in progress. Not much is missing – a few seconds maybe, but not more than a minute or so.

Click here to see the video.

AT&T confirms plans to replace California copper service with wireless


Copper sunset.

AT&T will spend $360 million earmarked for broadband service improvements in rural California on fixed wireless broadband service and not on upgrading or maintaining existing wireline networks. That was the message from Alice Perez, an AT&T staff lobbyist, to the Eldorado County board of supervisors yesterday (h/t to Fred Pilot at the Eldo Telecom blog for the heads up). Nationwide, AT&T is getting a total of $2.6 billion in federal Connect America Fund (CAF) subsidies over six years to upgrade broadband speeds in predominantly rural areas.

In the first rollout presentation that I’ve watched of what AT&T has called wireless local loop technology, Perez said that it’ll support 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, which meets the federal CAF standard, but fails to meet California’s minimum standard of 1.5 Mbps on the upload side. And it falls far short of the federal advanced services minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds.

She also alluded to replacing wireline telephone service with mobile phone technology – “VoLTE-based telephone service”, as one of her slides put it.

Consistent with AT&T’s past descriptions of WLL service, Perez positioned it as a bolt-on to existing cell sites, which is presumably where the voice over LTE based phone service would come from. In response to a question from supervisor Shiva Frentzen, Perez claimed that “this is not fiber funding”. That’s not true: CAF subsidies can be spent on any technology capable of meeting the 10 down/1 up standard. If AT&T isn’t spending it on fiber, it’s by choice.

Actually, even in rural California, I expect some of the money will go toward fiber back haul connections to cell towers, particularly the new ones that Perez said would be necessary. Her pitch ended with a plea for rapid approval of permits for the work, which met with a generally sympathetic response from supervisors and staff.

None of this comes as a surprise. AT&T executives have been talking about WLL for more than two years, and they made it clear in last year’s acceptance of CAF money that they intend to spend it on wireless broadband and not upgrades to copper systems.

Earlier this year, AT&T mounted a full court lobbying press to convince the California legislature to allow it to remove wireline service from less profitable rural and inner city communities. That effort failed, for the time being anyway. But given this new push to overbuild rural systems with fixed wireless service, it’s clear that AT&T intends to move forward with its plan to yank out its copper networks, regardless.

UPDATE: I’ve posted the video of the presentation on YouTube. You can click to see it here.

Scraping up California legislature’s telecoms road kill

The big impact telecoms legislation proposed so far in Sacramento this year is dead, the victim of opposition and inattention. That’s not to belittle the handful of telecoms bills awaiting action in August, but nothing that’s on the table right now would have the sweeping impact of some of the ones that didn’t make it.

Top of list was assembly bill 2395, a measure custom written by AT&T and carried by Evan Low, an accomodating assemblyman from Silicon Valley. It would have allowed AT&T to replace less lucrative landline systems in rural and inner city markets with wireless service, as well as getting the company out from under most of the California Public Utilities Commission’s regulatory purview. A storm of opposition, with AT&T’s unionised workforce at the center, stopped AB 2395 before it could get to a vote of the full assembly.

Mike Gatto, the chair of the assembly’s utilities and commerce committee, helped move the AB 2395 ball, as well as proposing another gift to big telecoms companies: AB 2788, which would have eliminated the already diminishingly small discretion cities and counties have over permits for cell towers and other wireless facilities. As a bonus, it would have also required them to lease municipal property to wireless companies. The bill popped up suddenly as a key deadline loomed, and then died just as quickly when it turned out that opponents weren’t napping.

Assembly bill 1758, by Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz), was a plan to pump $350 million into the California Advanced Services Fund, to be used for building (mostly rural) broadband infrastructure, as well as funding (mostly urban) digital literacy programs run by non-profits and broadband facilities in public housing. AT&T and the cable industry’s lobbying front, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, launched a two-pronged attack on it, convincing Gatto to block it in his committee and writing a competing bill that was introduced by another ally, assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward). AB 1758, and Quirk’s AB 2130, died in Gatto’s committee without a hearing.

Lawmakers will have the entire month of August to both work on existing bills and resurrect language from dead ones. A month is a long time in politics.

I’ve advocated for and helped to draft AB 1758 and its predecessors. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.

LA assemblyman steps up to bat for big telecom


You’d think he’d be a Dodger fan.

Los Angeles assemblyman Mike Gatto is doubling down on his role as the California legislature’s key player on telecoms policy this season, and he appears to have decided he’s playing on the telephone and cable company team.

As chair of the assembly’s utilities and commerce committee, Gatto blocked a proposal to put more state money into broadband infrastructure – opposed by incumbents because it also empowers competitors – and greased the skids for an AT&T-written bill that would have allowed rural and inner city copper-line networks to be replaced by wireless service. Would have except that opposition, particularly from unionised telecoms workers, stopped assembly bill 2395 before it could go to a vote of the full assembly.

Gatto is carrying industry-friendly legislation of his own, such as a last minute bill to remove most of local government’s discretion regarding cell sites – including on city and county-owned facilities – and a constitutional amendment to disestablish the California Public Utilities Commission and bring utility regulation under the direct control of the legislature. Both bills were supposed to be heard by a senate committee on Tuesday, but were bumped to today. AB 2788 was subsequently removed from that hearing agenda and is now dead. ACA 11 apparently will be heard, although that could change too.

On the other hand, Gatto authored a bill to force “cable, satellite, and Internet service providers” to allow customers to cancel their subscriptions with a simple click on a web site. That would have blown a gaping hole in incumbents’ business models. Would have. Gatto’s enthusiasm for consumer advocacy died on the assembly floor along with his one-click unsubscribe bill, which was never offered up for a vote. It was finally stricken from file – killed for lack of attention.

He is addressing important issues – technology upgrades, CPUC reform, telecoms competition, environmental and administrative roadblocks, one-sided transactions – but in every case Gatto’s deliverable is the one that appears most friendly to big cable and telephone companies, rather than one that balances interests across all stakeholders.

I posed the question earlier: is he trying to build a legacy – he leaves office this year – or is he looking for a new job? I think we have the answer.

Assembly votes to write the CPUC out of the California constitution


Disestablished?

It’ll be up to the California senate to decide whether or not to put the future of the California Public Utilities Commission on the November general election ballot. The assembly approved assembly constitutional amendment 11 on Thursday. If it gets on the ballot and voters approve it, the CPUC would lose its special constitutional status as an independent agency.

The state legislature would then have to decide how utilities – energy, telecoms, water and transportation – will be regulated in California. It would be a reversal of a decision made more than a hundred years ago to move that authority out of the political melee in Sacramento. Even if lawmakers decided to keep the CPUC around in one form or another, it would be subject to the same oversight by the legislature and the governor as any other state department.

The vote was overwhelmingly in favor – 61 ayes to 9 noes, with 10 members not voting. There was a partisan tinge to the opposition, but nothing like a party line vote. Republicans cast seven of the noes, and accounted for eight of the abstentions, but that still left 13 joining with all but four democrats in the aye column. Since a two-thirds vote – 54 out of 80 – was required, republicans could have blocked it if they considered it important to do so.

In order for the proposed amendment to make it onto this November’s ballot, the senate has to act by the end of the month – since it’s a constitutional amendment, it doesn’t go to the governor for his signature. If the senate approves it after the deadline, the statewide vote would have to wait until 2018, unless a special election was called.

Unanimous vote to bring California utility regulation back to Sacramento

The California assembly has backed off from giving AT&T a free pass to yank out wireline service in less lucrative rural and inner city communities, but it’s moving ahead with a plan to completely re-write the way telecommunications and other utilities are regulated.

On the same day it put AT&T’s copper killer bill on what appears to be terminal hold, the assembly appropriations committee unanimously approved a constitutional amendment that would, in effect, turn utility regulation into just another state function, carried out by departments answerable to the legislature and the governor.

Assembly constitutional amendment 11 was proposed by assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), who was also a key player in the effort to pass AB 2395, which would have allowed AT&T to end wireline service at will and largely escape all future oversight by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The California constitution gives the CPUC a special and largely independent status, with broad responsibilities for overseeing a wide range of utilities and offices deliberately located in San Francisco, away from daily political influences at the capitol. ACA 11 would remove that special status, and allow the legislature to decide which state departments would regulate which utilities, and how it should be done. That might mean keeping the CPUC in its present form, although it seems unlikely given the general dissatisfaction with its performance amongst lawmakers. But those kinds of details aren’t addressed in the proposed amendment – the legislature would figure it out later.

If two-thirds of both the assembly and senate agree by the first of July, it’ll be up for a public vote on the November ballot.

AT&T’s attempt to rewrite California law shredded by a higher power


Wrong day to be a shark.

By the formal rules of the California assembly, AT&T’s attempt to reboot its monopoly without regulatory constraints is dead. Yesterday, the assembly’s appropriations committee took assembly bill 2395 out of legislative limbo and sat on it. That means the bill didn’t clear the committee by the official deadline – also yesterday – and can’t move forward without extraordinary maneuvers by legislative leadership.

That’s not likely to happen. The decision to stop AB 2395 instead of keeping it alive would have been made by legislative leaders in the first place. It’s a rapid and stunning reversal of a nitro-fueled bulldozer of a bill that was on the fast track to the governor’s desk. Just a couple of weeks ago, one member of the committee told me that AB 2395 was a done deal, and there would be no stopping it in the assembly.

Looking back, the first clue was probably Wednesday’s appropriations committee, when the assemblyman carrying the bill for AT&T – Evan Low (D – Silicon Valley) – didn’t show up and speak for it, and AT&T sent a third string lobbyist to defend it. At the time, I pegged it as big money arrogance. It looks like that call was 180 degrees wrong. It seems likelier now that Low and AT&T were just cutting their losses.

What changed the game? I’d put my bet on the Communications Workers of America, the primary union representing AT&T employees. Union reps were out in force at the first committee hearing in April, but failed to stop it. Rural interests and consumer groups opposed it too, but once CWA mobilised labor allies the hard mathematical reality of California politics prevailed. AT&T is a big money player, but organised labor is even bigger.

California assembly committee stops AT&T wireline exit, reports say

Assembly bill 2395 was killed today by the California assembly’s appropriations committee, according to reports from several sources. The Rural Counties Representatives of California website has the most complete info right now. I’m not 100% certain that it’s 100% dead – there are parliamentary tactics that might resuscitate it – but that’s always the case in Sacramento.

AB 2395 would have allowed AT&T to replace insufficiently lucrative wireline systems with wireless service, with no guarantees of broadband access, and escape nearly all regulatory oversight in California.

I’ll post another update if and when I get better confirmation and clearer details of what happened today.

California legislators put overconfident AT&T’s wireline exit bill on ice for now


At least one side came prepared.

AT&T’s campaign to rewrite California law and yank wireline service out of less lucrative rural and inner city communities is in legislative limbo, at least temporarily. The assembly appropriations committee met yesterday to consider assembly bill 2395, which was written by AT&T and carried on its behalf by assemblyman Evan Low (D – Silicon Valley).

I wasn’t in Sacramento for it, but I watched the webcast and it appeared that AT&T and assembly members friendly to its cause were not prepared for the opposition that arose during the meeting, nor the increasingly skeptical responses from committee members that it appeared to generate.

Low did not show up for the hearing to speak on behalf of the bill, nor did anyone step up to fill the two brief speaking slots allotted to supporters. That left the two designated opposing speakers free to make an unchallenged case against the bill. Representatives from the Communications Workers of America, the primary union representing AT&T employees, and TURN, a consumer utility advocacy group, summed up the reasons to spike it, including the impact on jobs, the likelihood that AT&T would leave unprofitable customers either stranded or stuck with expensive and inferior service, and the end of any meaningful oversight of broadband and phone service by California regulators.

Next came a long line of people who, in keeping with standard procedure at the capitol, simply stated their name and organisation and declared their opposition to AB 2395. They were followed by an equally long line of supporters, including an AT&T staff lobbyist – far more junior than the alpha lobbyist sent to the last committee hearing.

Then the questions started coming from committee members. It was a long way from being an inquisition, but there were sharper than usual questions about the California Public Utilities Commission’s ability to oversee AT&T turbocharged exit from traditional telephone company responsibilities and regulations. Since Low wasn’t there, the AT&T lobbyist answered from the back of the room. He be seemed to be working hard to give the impression that this bill was really somebody else’s idea, and he just thought it was a good one. You know, like maybe he was looking for the cafeteria and walked into the hearing by mistake. One of his answers drew audible derision from the audience, forcing committee chair Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego) to quiet the room.

She wrapped it up by moving AB 2395 to the suspense file, an apparently pre-planned move. That’s a parliamentary maneuver that effectively puts the bill on ice until after legislators agree on a state budget in June. Assuming nothing unusual happens – not a completely safe bet, but a reasonable one – legislative leaders will then meet behind closed doors and decide whether or not to allow the bill to go to a vote by the full assembly. At this point, the betting is that they’ll greenlight it. Then, if it gets a simple majority vote on the assembly floor, AB 2395 goes over to the senate, likely for consideration in August.

Another pointed, broadband-specific hearing was cancelled at the capitol. Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), the chair of the assembly utilities and commerce committee and a key player behind the push for AB 2395, withdrew his request to the joint legislative audit committee for an investigation of the California Advanced Services Fund and the California Emerging Technology Fund.