Small group of Californian lawmakers make big broadband policy

by Steve Blum • , ,

Gut and amend.

Major broadband-related legislation is on the horizon this week in Sacramento, although how it will ultimately read is completely unknown right now. The way things are lining up, we probably won’t know until the end of the month, when the legislature goes into its final, end-of-the-session whirlwind.

Action on a thoroughly innocuous bill involving the California Public Utilities Commission – AB 2902 – by a telecoms industry ally, assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), has been pushed back a couple of times and is sitting on hold. It’s a perfect candidate for gut and amend, which is the tenderly named legislative practice of writing a completely new bill, usually secretly, and wrapping it with the skinned out remains of an old bill at the last minute. AB 2902 is just an example, though – any bill will do.

Then, the assembly appropriations committee is scheduled to consider three, considerably less industry-friendly CPUC reform bills – SB 215, SB 512 and SB 1017 – on Wednesday. Along with Gatto, the authors of those bills – senators Jerry Hill (D – San Bruno) and Mark Leno (D – San Francisco) – form the troika that negotiated the outline of a CPUC overhaul package with governor Brown in June, with the intention of working out the details in August.

Well, it’s August. New versions of Hill’s and Leno’s bills have been posted with amendments reflecting points that were openly debated at a public committee hearing in June, but apparently not yet including the grand deal reached with the governor. There will be more changes to come.

My bet is that all four bills will land in the legislative limbo known as the suspense file and disappear while legislators, lobbyists and other interested and well connected parties work things out behind closed doors. In the final days of the session, expect to see those bills, and possibly one or two others, emerge ready for fast track approval and in a radically different form. It is likely to mean major changes to broadband and other utility regulation in California.

Unfortunately, the public won’t have much to say about it, or even know what it is until it lands on the governor’s desk.