Effort to shed more light on the CPUC moves into the dark

by Steve Blum • , ,

Nightfall.

The dust has settled in Sacramento and lawmakers are out of town on their regular summer break. But the details of changes proposed for telecommunications policy are still hazy.

The legislative package that will determine how telecoms companies and services, and other utilities, are regulated (or not) in California is still largely unwritten. That’s the plan agreed with the governor to change the way the California Public Utilities Commission does business. At this point, it looks like it will comprise five bills, although as the process grinds through that number could shift up or down:

  • Senate bill 215, by Mark Leno (D – San Francisco), would tighten restrictions on private conversations and other ex parte communications between CPUC commissioners and interested parties while some proceedings are under way.
  • SB 512, by Jerry Hill (D – San Mateo), would allow the commission to hold more meetings around the state – right now they have to have at least one per month in San Francisco – and require it to reach out to possibly interested parties when beginning proceedings. It would also allow local governments to be reimbursed for related expenses by utilities under certain circumstances.
  • SB 1017, also by Hill, would make it easier for the public to see CPUC records, including potentially greater access to information that’s filed by utilities and currently considered confidential.
  • Assembly bill 2120, by Shirley Weber (D – San Diego), that would make school also eligible for intervenor compensation, under some circumstances.

Judging from last week’s hearings, there will be significant amendments written during the break, and the outline released by the governor’s office suggests most of the changes will involve trimming back rather than expanding those bills.

That’s four.

The fifth bill, which could have the biggest impact of all on telecoms policy, is a wild card. Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles) will, to all appearances, take charge of writing the central reforms, which will move some oversight responsibility, for example for transportation companies, from the CPUC to other state departments immediately, and leave decisions on who will regulate telecoms companies to 2018. The process for studying options and making those decisions is a complete unknown right now. The month long break is a perfect opportunity for closed door meetings between industry lobbyists and key legislators to figure it out, though. You know, the kind of meetings they don’t want the CPUC to have.

Lawmakers must wrap it all up by the end of August. Which means decisions will come fast – the three senate bills are due for a final public hearing on the first day back – and will be made largely out of public view.