Tag Archives: aca11

Confirmed: bill to scrap CPUC is scrapped instead

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The puzzle pieces are starting to move, as a plan announced yesterday to reorganise utility regulation in California takes shape. Assembly constitutional amendment 11 was taken off the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee’s agenda yesterday, and a second hearing, by the senate’s elections and constitutional amendments committee, was cancelled this morning.

ACA 11 would have put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot, asking voters whether they want to end the special, and largely independent, status granted to the California Public Utilities Commission. The author, assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), was one of the three legislators that worked with governor Brown to develop a grand package of CPUC reforms. Gatto was reported to have said he would pull ACA 11 and it seems he has.

Bills to scrap local cell site review and California Public Utilities Commission delayed

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Don’t have to look far to find a horse in Sacramento.

Afternoon update: There’s a growing consensus that AB 2788 is dead, rather than just delayed. Resurrection is always possible while the legislature is in session, though. We’ll know its status for sure, at least its current status, by Monday, if not before.

A proposal to allow mobile carriers to install cell sites pretty much anywhere they want – including on publicly owned property – without meaningful review by local government has been bumped by a week. Assembly bill 2788 will be heard next Monday in the senate energy, utilities and commerce committee, instead of as originally scheduled for today. Likewise, a proposal – assembly constitutional amendment 11 – to ask voters whether they want to eliminate the special status given to the California Public Utilities Commission by the California constitution was also pushed back until Monday.

No reason was given for the delays, however it’s worth noting that both bills are being carried – authored is the term of art – by Los Angeles assemblyman Mike Gatto, who chairs the assembly utilities and commerce committee, which in turn will be considering bills next week by San Diego senator Ben Hueso, who chairs the senate energy, utilities and commerce committee. Since next week is also a notional deadline for getting bills out of committee and a hard deadline for getting measures on the November ballot, it’s a fair guess that there’s some horse trading going on.

Hueso just amended a bill of his own and made it about extending the deadline for the CPUC to spend money set aside to pay for broadband facilities in public housing. Senate bill 745 previously dealt with some arcane aspects of the California Advanced Services Fund, so it’s not quite a gut and amend maneuver, but it is a sharp change of course. He’s also a co-author on a bill – SB 215 – that would tighten rules for how regulated utilities and other interested parties communicate with the CPUC about matters before it. Both of those bills are scheduled to be heard by Gatto’s committee on Tuesday.

Assembly votes to write the CPUC out of the California constitution

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Disestablished?

It’ll be up to the California senate to decide whether or not to put the future of the California Public Utilities Commission on the November general election ballot. The assembly approved assembly constitutional amendment 11 on Thursday. If it gets on the ballot and voters approve it, the CPUC would lose its special constitutional status as an independent agency.

The state legislature would then have to decide how utilities – energy, telecoms, water and transportation – will be regulated in California. It would be a reversal of a decision made more than a hundred years ago to move that authority out of the political melee in Sacramento. Even if lawmakers decided to keep the CPUC around in one form or another, it would be subject to the same oversight by the legislature and the governor as any other state department.

The vote was overwhelmingly in favor – 61 ayes to 9 noes, with 10 members not voting. There was a partisan tinge to the opposition, but nothing like a party line vote. Republicans cast seven of the noes, and accounted for eight of the abstentions, but that still left 13 joining with all but four democrats in the aye column. Since a two-thirds vote – 54 out of 80 – was required, republicans could have blocked it if they considered it important to do so.

In order for the proposed amendment to make it onto this November’s ballot, the senate has to act by the end of the month – since it’s a constitutional amendment, it doesn’t go to the governor for his signature. If the senate approves it after the deadline, the statewide vote would have to wait until 2018, unless a special election was called.

Unanimous vote to bring California utility regulation back to Sacramento

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The California assembly has backed off from giving AT&T a free pass to yank out wireline service in less lucrative rural and inner city communities, but it’s moving ahead with a plan to completely re-write the way telecommunications and other utilities are regulated.

On the same day it put AT&T’s copper killer bill on what appears to be terminal hold, the assembly appropriations committee unanimously approved a constitutional amendment that would, in effect, turn utility regulation into just another state function, carried out by departments answerable to the legislature and the governor.

Assembly constitutional amendment 11 was proposed by assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), who was also a key player in the effort to pass AB 2395, which would have allowed AT&T to end wireline service at will and largely escape all future oversight by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The California constitution gives the CPUC a special and largely independent status, with broad responsibilities for overseeing a wide range of utilities and offices deliberately located in San Francisco, away from daily political influences at the capitol. ACA 11 would remove that special status, and allow the legislature to decide which state departments would regulate which utilities, and how it should be done. That might mean keeping the CPUC in its present form, although it seems unlikely given the general dissatisfaction with its performance amongst lawmakers. But those kinds of details aren’t addressed in the proposed amendment – the legislature would figure it out later.

If two-thirds of both the assembly and senate agree by the first of July, it’ll be up for a public vote on the November ballot.

Decisions this week on key California broadband bills

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It all comes down to the wire.

With deadlines looming this week and next, broadband-related bills are queued up in Sacramento, awaiting decisions. The committee to watch is the assembly appropriations committee, which has to vote on a constitutional amendment to disband the California Public Utilities Commission and on AT&T’s attempt to get out of the rural wireline broadband and phone business.

AT&T’s copper killer bill – assembly bill 2395 – is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday, while the CPUC measure – assembly constitutional amendment 11 – is sitting in a stack of bills that might or might not come to a vote. AB 2395 and ACA 11 need yes votes from the appropriations committee by Friday, or they’re dead. Not dead beyond all hope of resurrection – there are ample parliamentary maneuvers that could be made – but dead for all practical purposes.

The appropriations committee is where legislative leaders can weigh in on controversial measures. If the leadership likes it enough to give its blessing, it’s a fair bet that AB 2395 will be approved by the full assembly before the following week’s deadline – it only requires a simple majority vote to continue on to the senate. ACA 11 needs a two-thirds majority, so the road ahead is rockier, but if legislative leaders send it to a floor vote, that’s a good indication that it has a fighting chance.

The joint legislative audit committee – made up of members from both the assembly and senate – will be considering a request on Wednesday from assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles) to conduct an audit of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) and the CPUC’s California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). It doesn’t look like a friendly request. Gatto is the author of ACA 11 and was the key player who squashed a proposal to reboot CASF. He’s also been at odds with CETF, after trading barbs in Sacramento Bee op ed pieces.

I’ve advocated for and helped to draft CASF legislation and other broadband bills, and worked alongside CETF and others in the process. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.

The week AT&T, cable lobbyists ran up the score in Sacramento

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It could have been a winning week (or two) for broadband infrastructure advocates in the California capitol, but instead last week turned into a victory march for AT&T and cable lobbyists as they fought to further entrench the cosy monopoly/duopoly conditions that underpin their business models. I’ve been blogging more or less on a play by play basis, but I think it’d be helpful to try to pull it briefly together.

It comes down to four key assembly bills, all of which landed in the assembly utilities and commerce committee over the past couple of weeks:

AB 1758 – an effort by Santa Cruz democrat Mark Stone to raise California’s broadband standard to 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds, and put $350 million into the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for infrastructure upgrade subsidies and a variety of other programs.

AB 2130 – a counter to Stone’s bill written by AT&T and carried by assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward), it would have ended ancillary CASF programs for public housing and regional consortia, added a new, $100 million infrastructure program rigged to highly favor incumbents and all but close the door to independent projects.

AB 2395 – Another AT&T-written bill, this one was fronted by Silicon Valley democrat Evan Low. A classic piece of obfuscation, the rhetoric focused on the geeky details of transitioning voice service from legacy analog systems to digital technology, which is something that most agree is necessary, albeit with different opinions regarding timing and other details. But it also includes language allowing AT&T to replace copper lines in rural and inner city areas with wireless-only service at will, and all but remove it from regulatory oversight.

ACA 11 – an amendment proposed by Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles) that writes the California Public Utilities Commission out of the state constitution and puts utility regulatory decisions into the hands of the legislature. If it gets two-thirds approval in the assembly and senate, it goes on the November ballot for a vote.

AB 1758 died in committee due to lack of support, particularly from Gatto, who serves as chairman. AB 2130 followed into oblivion – with AB 1758 gone, there was no further need for it. AB 2395 and ACA 11 were both approved by lopsided majorities, and are headed to a second committee review, ahead of a vote by the full assembly.

The California assembly, or at least the utilities and commerce committee, is pointing in a clear direction: a smaller role for state government in telecoms regulation and subsidies. That would be wonderful if the result were likely to be a freer market with more innovation and competition. But that’s not the way to bet.

Incumbents, with AT&T in the lead, are carefully unpicking Californian telecoms policy, scrapping inconvenient restraints on monopoly power while keeping barriers to competition in place. That’s bad news. But there’s good news too: it’s still early in the game.

I’ve advocated for and helped to draft AB 1758 and its predecessors. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.

CPUC’s future could be in the hands of California voters

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It helps to be cute when you’re an endangered species.

The California Public Utilities Commission is one step closer to extinction, at least in its current form. The assembly utilities and commerce commerce overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment yesterday that would strip the CPUC of its special, independent status under the California constitution and give the legislature the job of deciding how utilities of would be regulated, or not.

Support for the bill – assembly constitutional amendment 11 – is bipartisan, with democrats and republicans signed up as co-authors. Only one committee member, Rocky Chavez (R – Oceanside), voted no, and he was just worried about some of the details and not so much the idea itself.

ACA 11’s primary author is Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), the chairman of the committee. He’s been a friend to cable and telco lobbyists lately, spiking an effort to extend California’s broadband infrastructure subsidy program and pushing hard to get a bill through his committee that was written by AT&T and would allow the company to end wireline service in unprofitable rural and inner city areas. But cable, telephone and other utilities companies didn’t show up to oppose or support ACA 11 yesterday, nor did they file any comments about it.

Public support came yesterday from two San Diego trial lawyers, San Francisco cab drivers, and a lobbyist for competitive local exchange carriers – independent telephone companies that rely on regulations for access to incumbent’s lines. Speakers from the unions that represent telephone company workers and, particularly, CPUC employees were also on hand, but just to take a neutral stand and extract a promise from Gatto that not only would no one lose a job, more people would probably be hired if voters approve the amendment. No one opposed it, no one spoke on the CPUC’s behalf.

I give Gatto points for clarity. The amendment is simple: it erases the language in the California constitution that establishes the CPUC and gives the legislature two years to come up with ways to replace it. He correctly described it yesterday as an historic opportunity for California voters to reconsider decisions that go back more than a hundred years. The choice is whether public utilities should be regulated by a single, permanent, semi-independent agency or by regular state government departments managed by the governor, with specific powers, responsibilities and budget determined by the legislature, potentially on a year to year basis.

There’s more committee review to come before the full assembly votes, and then the process repeats in the senate. If two-thirds of both houses approve it by July, it goes straight to a vote on the November ballot.