Cable, mobile companies fight rollback of perks they’ve paid California lawmakers big bucks to write

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Special privileges that cable companies and mobile carriers have bought from the California legislature over the years could be rolled back a bit if two bills approved by the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications (EU&C) committee make it into law.

Senate bill 1058, authored by Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), would require “every Internet service provider” (as the legislative counsel’s digest put it) to “file an annual emergency operations plan” with the California Public Utilities Commission. Besides information about emergency operations and contact information for state and local officials, as currently written the bill effectively requires ISPs to offer “an affordable class of broadband Internet service” to people locked down or displaced by a disaster and to provide “capital expenditure plans for broadband expansion” to the CPUC annually.

Every ISP means just that. Any “business that provides broadband Internet access service” to any customer will have to comply. That prospect upset lobbyists for cable companies and mobile carriers, particularly. Their Sacramento front organisations led the opposition to the bill. Despite that, it was approved on a 10 to 3 party line vote.

SB 1069, carried by Hannah-Beth Jackson (D – Santa Barbara), is a bit more subtle, but will be equally, if not more, disruptive to the cozy regulatory carve outs that lobbyists for mobile carriers, like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, and cable companies, like Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox, have paid millions of dollars to lawmakers over the years to create and preserve.

On its face, the bill requires “telecommunications service” providers to deliver more and better information about “critical communications infrastructure” to state and local officials during a disaster. But it also ropes ISPs and broadband networks, respectively, into those categories by expanding the definition of telecommunications service to include voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service and the infrastructure – i.e. broadband networks – that carry it. That also brought howls of protest from the cable and mobile minions, who rightly fear that the change will breach the regulatory firewall between themselves and legacy copper telephone companies that they’ve spent so much money building.

It’s just a chip in the firewall, though. The Federal Communications Commission and, so far, federal courts perpetuate the fiction that identical functionality is a “telecommunications service” when provided via one type of technology – legacy telco copper – but is an “information service” when delivered over another type – Internet protocol-based broadband systems.

Both bills, along with SB 1130, which upgrades California minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download and upload speeds, head to the California senate appropriations committee. The real work of the appropriations committee is done behind closed doors by legislative leadership, which makes it the preferred killing ground for bills that offend cash laden lobbyists.