Update: AB 1366 will be heard in the senate energy, utilities and communications the week after next (h/t to Adam Bender at Communications Daily for the heads up).
Assembly bill 1366 will block modernisation of California’s telecommunications grid and allow telephone and cable companies “to disregard California laws”, according to a position paper unanimously adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission yesterday. The commission’s opposition comes ahead of a California senate hearing on the bill scheduled for the week after next.
As first pushed by AT&T and authored by assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego), AB 1366 would have simply extended an existing ban on any regulation of “Internet protocol enabled” services by the CPUC or other state agencies. That restriction took effect in 2013 in order to give Internet-based services such as voice over Internet protocol telephone service a chance to develop in a competitive marketplace. At yesterday’s meeting, commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said it’s a different world now…
The original purpose of this bill has been more than fulfilled. VoIP was a nascent technology [when the ban was proposed], it is now a dominant technology and is going to overtake and replace landlines, and the services it provides are indistinguishable from those of traditional landline service. So, extending the bill now would be a barrier to consumer protections and our ability to protect public safety during emergencies. We can provide this regulation without, in any way, undermining competition.
That’s assuming competition exists. The CPUC’s concern isn’t the wide range of messaging, social media and other services that ride on the Internet. It’s about the replacement of regulated, old school copper-based telephone services with unregulated VoIP technology, as AT&T is aggressively doing. Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves said a “point that is raised often by the industry is competition is the solution to service quality. Unfortunately, we also know that the majority of Californians do not have competition”.
AB 1366 is still a work in progress. Strong opposition from the Communications Workers of America union caused Gonzales to backpedal during an assembly committee hearing in April, and her first try at amending the bill was not fully baked. It’s due to be considered by the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee on Tuesday, and it’s a good bet that it’ll be amended again.