Bait and switch for California bill to allow AT&T's rural abandonment

22 April 2016 by Steve Blum
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Not the result he was expecting.

No real changes were made in to a proposed new law that would allow AT&T to pull out its wireline systems in rural and inner city communities in California, despite promises to the contrary.

The new text of assembly bill 2395 is now available, and it’s nothing like the way it was characterised by AT&T and its legislative cheering section during an assembly utilities and commerce committee hearing last week.

There are no significant changes to consumer protections. Some of the jargon was translated into plainer English, but the core of it – that AT&T can replace wireline with wireless service with only 30 days notice – remains. Language was also added saying that federal law regarding access for competitive carriers still applies. Duh.

There is nothing in the new language that says AT&T has to maintain or preserve wireline infrastructure, or sell it to a company that’s interested in that business, despite the fact that rural copper networks were largely paid for by taxpayer dollars. And those subsidies will continue to flow into AT&T’s pocket, even if copper lines are left to rot on the poles.

During the hearing, committee chairman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles) said…

You can rest assured that nobody will tear up any copper line infrastructure…At least, I don’t think it’ll happen. This committee will not let it happen.

Well, this committee did let it happen. Three assemblymen – Brian Dahle (R – Redding), Roger Hernandez (D – West Covina) and Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz) – tried to preventing it by voting no, but the remaining dozen committee members accepted verbal assurances that strong and meaningful amendments were in the works, which were given by the bill’s nominal author, Evan Low (D – Silicon Valley), Gatto and AT&T.

Whether they were genuinely suckered or just played along with the game doesn’t matter at this point. The real question is whether the members of the assembly’s appropriations committee – the next stop for AB 2395 – will be as accomodating.