Action must follow CPUC broadband investigation

14 November 2016 by Steve Blum
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That’s a powerful force. Research should be done.
Oh, it will be, Dr. Jones, I assure you.

A proposed California Public Utilities Commission decision slams the lack of telecommunications competition in the state and goes a long way toward demolishing the artificial distinction between telephone and broadband service, infrastructure and, crucially, regulation. If it’s approved more or less as written, it will create a factual and legal foundation for modernising telecoms policy and regulation in California. But it doesn’t propose any action; it simply calls for more data collection.

That’s a problem, according to the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates (ORA), which submitted a critique of the draft decision

Lack of competition produces rates that fail the Commission’s statutory requirements to be just and reasonable and safe and reliable. However, ordering further studies and monitoring does nothing to address the numerous findings of fact of this proceeding. The PD seeks to continue monitoring the telecommunications market without taking any action on some of the market failures that it has found: lack of consumer choice in a highly concentrated broadband market.

The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a consumer advocacy group, offered similar comments.

One segment of the telecoms ecosystem that needs to be shaken loose of monopoly or near monopoly control is wholesale services: dark fiber, middle mile connectivity and leasing last mile copper connections, for example. Possible remedies, according to ORA’s brief, include a UK-style separation of infrastructure ownership from the retail service business, setting tougher unbundling and interconnection rules, or even “development of a public wholesale broadband network”.

At a minimum, both ORA and TURN urge commissioners to keep the current investigation open, and solve the many problems identified in the draft. That is the major failing of the proposed decision – it offers no action plan or roadmap for finding solutions.

Instead, it simply ends the proceeding. That would, in effect, put the decision on a shelf to gather dust. It would a waste and a tragedy to allow all the work that went into it to moulder away. The commission should accept the decision as a clearly articulated work plan and get on with the job. Quickly.