Tag Archives: ab2903

Ballot measure floated for California telecoms regulation

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Out of time and running room.

A new attempt to overhaul the California Public Utilities Commission is bobbing on the horizon. Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), who fronted a failed effort in the legislature, says he’s talking with “like-minded reformers” about a ballot initiative. That’s a bit unsettling, since his fellow travellers this year have largely been telecoms lobbyists and trial lawyers. Those are two groups with deep pockets for friendly policies and long arms for compliant politicians.

Gatto will need help to gather enough signatures to put a measure on the next available statewide ballot, which will be the spring 2018 primary. He’s also expected to run for state treasurer in that same election. Neither effort will come cheap.

His plan to, among other things, move transportation oversight responsibilities from the CPUC to other state departments and consider major changes in telecoms regulation died in the final minutes of the legislative session last week. There’s an excellent account of how that happened in a Los Angeles Times story by Liam Dillon. A grand bargain struck in June between Gatto, Bay Area senators Jerry Hill and Mark Leno, and the governor crumbled as opposing interests – including AT&T, the cable industry’s lobbying front and the CPUC itself – wrestled over the details…

One major problem emerged last weekend when PUC President Michael Picker objected to a part of the bill that would have made it a misdemeanor for agency employees to knowingly release confidential information…

But Hill worried that if he took out that provision, telecommunication and cable companies would have tried to kill the measure…

Negotiations were still continuing through Wednesday morning with cable company representatives meeting in Hill’s office. By that point, the legislation had long missed key deadlines for the end of the session and could only advance if it received a waiver from normal Senate rules through a bipartisan supermajority vote.

As the clock ticked toward a midnight Thursday deadline, that support wasn’t there.

The result was two dead CPUC reform bills – Gatto’s assembly bill 2903 and Hill’s senate bill 1017 – and two watered down measures, SB 215 and SB 512 by Leno and Hill, respectively. According to Dillon’s article, the governor says he’ll sign the two survivors. The fate of a third, last minute bill – Hill’s SB 62, which would establish a quasi-independent safety advocate at the CPUC – is less certain.

California legislative update: final bills not posted yet, safety advocate approved

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And away we go!

Final versions of telecom-related bills that were approved in the final, dark hours of the California legislature’s session on Wednesday haven’t been posted yet. Among those approved was senate bill 62 by senator Jerry Hill (D – San Bruno). Yesterday morning, its fate wasn’t clear, but after the dust settled, the verdict was yes; it will be sent on to the governor.

SB 62 would create a quasi-independent safety advocate’s office at the California Public Utilities Commission, similar to the ratepayers’ advocate’s office. There’s already a safety division at the CPUC, that currently has responsibilities that would be transferred to the safety advocate. The new office would have direct reporting responsibilities to legislative oversight committees and, presumably, be able to pursue safety-related issues on its own initiative, without having to go through the bureaucratic hierarchy at the commission.

It joins SB 215 (limits contacts with commissioners) and SB 512 (opens up the commission’s work to greater public scrutiny) on the governor’s desk. The final-final version of SB 512 hasn’t been posted yet, but there’s been no indication of significant changes.

SB 1017 (public release of documents filed by utilities) appears to be dead for good, though. Although legislative staff haven’t gotten around to posting the official obituary, there’s no indication that it ever got to a final floor vote. It joins the omnibus reform bill, assembly bill 2903, in the recycling bin.

So governor Brown has two of the four bills he agreed to support as part of a grand utility reform package back in June – SB 215 and SB 512. The two others – AB 2903 and SB 1017 – are dead. Two more – SB 62 and AB 2168 (posting CPUC audits and inspections on the web) are also on his desk.

It’s always risky trying to predict what governor Brown will do, but my best guess is that he will sign SB 215 and SB 512 as previously agreed, as well as AB 2168 – it’s a harmless enough substitute for SB 1017, and lets everyone declare victory on the transparency front. SB 62, though, is the sort of ad hoc rearrangement of the bureaucracy that Brown has found unacceptable in the past. I’m betting that one gets vetoed.

California telecoms policy reform dies in Legislature

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The top line: an attempt (assembly bill 2903) to overhaul, or at least start the process of overhauling, the California Public Utilities Commission is dead; so, apparently, is one (senate bill 1017) aimed at releasing more information filed by utilities at the CPUC. Another, (AB 512), that’s intended to generally make CPUC processes more public, passed.

Going into the final, dark hours of the legislative session last night, several major utility reform bills were still in limbo, awaiting final language and votes. The uncertainty intensified as the midnight deadline drew near and capitol computer systems crashed. Not all the results and final bill language are online this morning, but this is what I have so far:

AB 2903 (assemblyman Mike Gatto, D, Los Angeles) – It’s dead, according to a tweet from Gatto. It was the Big Kahuna of this year’s CPUC reform bills. Besides shuffling some transportation-related oversight duties to other state agencies, it would start a top to bottom review of telecoms regulation in motion. Sorta. Maybe. The first draft of the bill had a detailed, and relatively even handed, list of broadband and telephone related issues to consider, but that was chopped out and replaced with a vague and general mission statement that was less directly threatening to all the interests at play. No details yet on why it died, although Gatto’s tweet simply blamed the clock.

AB 2168 (assemblyman Das Williams, D, Santa Barbara) – requires the California Public Utilities Commission to post utility audits and other reports on the web. It was passed by the legislature and now sits on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature, or veto.

SB 62 (senator Jerry Hill, D, San Bruno) – a last minute entry, it creates a public safety advocate’s office in the CPUC. As of early this morning, the legislature’s website indicates that the bill died. It’s possible, though, that the system hasn’t quite caught up with the late night flurry of activity.

SB 215 (senator Mark Leno, D, San Francisco) – originally intended to ban closed door discussions between commissioners and top CPUC staff and utilities and other interested parties about matters under review, it was dialled back to ban some conversations and require public disclosure of others. Passed by the legislature and sent on to governor Brown.

SB 512 (Hill) – a grab bag of reforms intended to open up CPUC processes to more public scrutiny. It was approved yesterday and is on its way to the governor. Exactly what was approved is unclear – the final language of the bill hasn’t been published yet. The link above is to the version posted a couple weeks ago. Maybe it’s the final final, maybe not.

SB 1017 (Hill) – it was supposed to allow the CPUC more discretion regarding whether or not to publicly release information filed by regulated utilities. SB 1017 was aggressively opposed by them, with telephone companies in the lead. The result was a significantly watered down version that did more to bake in secrecy than loosen it. It apparently died without a final vote yesterday, although, again, it’s also possible that the legislature’s online info will get a further update.

Utility reform game clock ticks down in Sacramento

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Final minutes of play.

With three days left in the legislative session, key California Public Utilities Commission reform bills are still pending and still subject to haggling over final language.

The big one is assembly bill 2903, by assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles). It makes a number of changes in the way the commission does business, including transferring some transportation-related oversight duties to other state agencies, and sets up an undefined reevaluation of the way broadband and telephone companies are regulated. Technically, AB 2903 is in the hands of a senate committee, but as a practical matter it’s still subject to closed door negotiations between legislators, the governor’s office and industry lobbyists.

Three bills by senator Jerry Hill (D – San Bruno) are pending in the assembly: senate bill 62 would create a new safety advocate office at the CPUC, SB 512 opens up some of the commission’s work to more public scrutiny, and SB 1017, which originally would have made it easier to release information filed by utilities but has since been watered down to mostly symbolic value. But unless and until final votes are taken, nothing is certain.

SB 215 by senator Mark Leno (D – San Francisco) which would tighten restrictions on private conversations between utilities and commissioners, and top staffers, is already on the governor’s desk. So is AB 2168, by assemblyman Das Williams (D – Santa Barbara), which would require the CPUC to post utility audit and inspection reports on the web. Williams’ bill wasn’t part of the grand compromise between the governor and legislators announced in June, so it might not be on the fast track for approval.

The deadline for lawmakers to act is midnight Wednesday.

Telecoms lobby pushes California lawmakers to muzzle local government

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Watchdog?

City councils and county boards of supervisors in California have an annoying habit of listening to residents and questioning the broadband marketing hype spun in out-of-state corporate headquarters and spread in Sacramento, where perks and campaign cash buy an attentive audience. Keeping local government out of any meaningful oversight role is a high priority for cable and telco lobbyists, and their successful efforts are evident as the final texts of key legislation begin to take shape.

Senate bill 512 by senator Jerry Hill (D – San Bruno) began as a response to the natural gas explosion that devastated his constituency, and the ensuing backchannel finagling between PG&E and CPUC commissioners. It’s still part of a package of California Public Utilities Commission reforms pending at the capitol, but provisions that would have given local governments more clout, and the money to wield it, were severely pruned back in the face of fierce – sometimes bitter – opposition, particularly from AT&T and the cable industry’s lobbying front.

Those lobbyists can also take comfort in the elimination of new rules for CPUC proceedings, that would have allowed local governments to enter “reports and analyses” into evidence. And a top level review of the CPUC’s role in regulating the telecoms industry no longer specifically includes an assessment of local agencies “that provide consumer protection and ensure the safety of telecommunication services”.

Local governments have virtually no regulatory authority over telecoms. The last meaningful remnant – cable franchises – was eliminated ten years ago. What’s left is a truth telling role. Incumbents defend their service monopolies by maintaining a information monopoly and using it to drive a narrative that suits their interests. Cities and counties are often the only source of credible facts and independent broadband advocacy. The California legislature should expand that role, not work to fence it in.

Detailed review of Californian telecoms policy slashed from bill

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I’ll show you gut and amend.

An examination of telecommunications responsibilities at the California Public Utilities Commission has gone from being a specific study of agency duties, technological issues and, critically, broadband’s place in the regulatory mix, to being the sort of high level gloss that will gather dust on a shelf. The threat of a useful result no longer looms over cable and telephone incumbents.

As it was proposed last week, assembly bill 2903 had a long check list of broadband and other telecoms issues that the California research bureau was supposed to investigate by the end of next year, including…

  • What gaps, if any, exist in the state’s regulatory authority that are not otherwise addressed by federal law or regulation over telecommunications services, including, but not limited to, consumer protection and safety.
  • The state and local agencies in addition to the Public Utilities Commission that provide consumer protection and ensure the safety of telecommunication services.
  • The extent to which it is necessary for utility pole safety regulation to be governed by one regulatory structure regardless of the type of utility attachment.
  • How to ensure the effective administration of the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 [DIVCA].
  • The extent to which competitive telecommunications services are available in California and to what extent there are regions within California that lack competitive alternatives.
  • The role of the Public Utilities Commission in regulating the wholesale telecommunications market.

A bill that began as a classic gut and amend maneuver has instead been gutted itself.

The deletions are sure to please the incumbents. There will be no specific examination of the self-serving fiction woven by cable lobbyists that broadband, voice and video services delivered by cable companies are so radically different from the broadband, voice and video services offered by telcos that they need a completely separate – and toothless – regulatory regime of their own. That’s why the bits about unified utility pole regulations and DIVCA were taken out.

Eliminating requirements to look at competition in California’s telecoms industry is another gift to the telco and cable lobbies. They’re well on their way towards converting government granted monopolies on analog services into comprehensive control of the digital realm, and an independent investigation would be oh so inconvenient.

AB 2903’s author, assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), has built an impressive record this term as an advocate for monopoly telecoms interests. These latest amendments will maintain that legacy as the legislative term – and Gatto’s career as a lawmaker – enters its final days.

This week’s version of assembly bill 2309
Last week’s version of assembly bill 2309