California senate committee considers AT&T-backed bill to end telephone service regulation

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Darth leia 625

A bill that would extend California’s ban on regulation of “Internet protocol enabled” services, including voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service, is due for a hearing in the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee today. Assembly bill 1366, authored by Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego), would allow AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast, Charter Communications and other big, monopoly model incumbents to do an end run around California’s laws, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Several regional broadband consortia have also gone on the record opposing it. I drafted the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s opposition letter, which says, in part…

The current text of AB 1366 extends a ban on oversight by the California Public Utilities Commission of telephone service provided via Internet protocol technology. When first enacted, this ban made sense and had little practical effect, because “Voice over Internet protocol” (VoIP) service was in its infancy. The child has grown up, though, and VoIP is a fully mature service that is rapidly supplanting traditional, and traditionally regulated, analog telephone service.

There might be good arguments for ending state oversight of telephone service. We do not support that position, but it is an appropriate subject for debate and deliberation by the California Legislature. Such a drastic change in California policy should not be enacted through a back door maneuver, as AB 1366 would do.

As of this morning, the version of the bill approved by the California assembly is still on the table. It includes token amendments made in the assembly that have vague language about VoIP service quality, but are of little practical use. The senate committee’s staff prepared an analysis that confirms that the token amendments in the bill “are largely unenforceable”. The analysis proposes a few more marginal changes, but leaves the core of the bill – as pushed by AT&T, Frontier, Comcast, Charter and a long list of their financially groomed, um, friends – intact.

The amendment came in response to strong opposition from the Communications Workers of America, the primary union representing AT&T employees. They are still listed as opposing AB 1366. The key test today will be whether or not CWA members turn out to oppose the bill, as they did in the assembly’s communications and conveyances committee.