AT&T's bid to nix wireline obligations opposed by CPUC

8 April 2016 by Steve Blum
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End of the line?

AT&T wants to end wireline service where ever it pleases and that drew fire yesterday from the California Public Utilities Commission. But not the whole commission. By a 3 to 2 vote, the CPUC officially went on record as opposing assembly bill 2395, written by AT&T and carried by Silicon Valley assemblyman Evan Low.

The bill itself is dressed up with talk about improving technology and reducing pollution but, as commissioner Catherine Sandoval explained, it gives AT&T blanket permission to do whatever it wants, however it wants, without subjecting itself to inconvenient regulations or bothersome competitors…

This bill would seem to allow a carrier of last resort to keep all the poles, keep all the conduits, keep all the rights of ways, keep the wires, keep the buildings, keep all the facilities that they want, offer none of the services – no basic services – and have no interconnection obligations. So it would diminish competition, diminish consumer protection, take away our jurisdiction to ensure consumer protection or public safety…

This bill also doesn’t require that we find that the service being offered to the customer is comparable. So there’s no comparability requirement, it just says ‘is there an alternative available?’ One of the things our current rules do require, as a carrier of last resort, is that they also have to offer certain services on a tariffed basis. A tariff is just like a posted pricing sheet, saying ‘you can get this service for this price’…so if none of that has to be offered on a tariffed basis, a posted basis, it really increases prices for everything else.

Commission president Michael Picker tried to derail opposition by first worrying that killing the bill would prevent AT&T from replacing copper with fiber. It would do no such thing – AT&T happily installs fiber now, at least in the affluent areas it favors. Then he talked about waiting until the commission figures out a technological road map for the future. Which is fine, except that such deliberations take months, if not years, and the bill comes up for a committee vote next week.

Picker’s final gambit to keep the CPUC from getting in the way of AT&T’s bill was to urge commissioners to simply stay neutral. In the end, commissioner Liane Randolph joined Picker in opting for a hands off approach, while Sandoval, Mike Florio and Carla Peterman voted to endorse a recommendation by CPUC staff and formally oppose AB 2395.