Power out? No 911? California bill allows cable, telcos to say stick it

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Woolsey fire victim

Companies that provide voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and fixed wireless Internet service (WISPs) won’t, for the most part, have to keep their networks running during disasters, under a bill that was just amended in the California assembly. As now written, senate bill 431 generally confirms resiliency requirements – e.g. 72 hours of backup power and maintain access to “basic internet browsing for emergency notices” in high fire threat areas – imposed on mobile carriers by the California Public Utilities Commission this week, but draws the line there.

That’s a big win for Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Communications and other cable companies that offer telephone service via VoIP technology. All they would have to do is mail a warning label to customers once year and tell them to stick it on their phone. The warning would advise customers that losing power means losing 911 service, although it might not come across that way since weasel words like “may be impacted” are allowed.

It’s a double win for AT&T and Frontier Communications. They get the same VoIP break as cable companies, plus they’ll be able to offer service via fixed wireless facilities that have no backup power or disaster preparedness requirements at all, instead of upgrading or maintaining wireline networks, which must be kept running during emergencies and electric outages.

An earlier draft of SB 431 would have extended back up power and other network resiliency requirements to pretty much any Internet service provider in California, but that text disappeared. Presumably, that’s the work of the platoons of lobbyists that AT&T, Comcast, Charter and the rest deploy in Sacramento to stuff millions of dollars into lawmakers pockets. It’s no coincidence that the bill is scheduled to be heard in the assembly communications and conveyances committee next week, which is stuffed with lawmakers who have particularly benefited from big telecom’s generosity and have graciously repaid those favors, at least until netizens take notice.