Tag Archives: sb1017

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 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.

Cable, telco lobby hack more meat out of California telcoms reform

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Lobbyists from telephone companies largely prevailed in their fight to block meaningful release of information about what they do at the California Public Utilities Commission. And the cable lobby has, for the moment, maintained an Internet access chokehold on people who live in public housing.

Senate bill 1017 was pushed by San Bruno senator Jerry Hill, after a PG&E gas pipeline exploded with fatal results for his constituency. As originally conceived, it would have reformed archaic laws that allow utilities – including telephone companies – to stamp pretty much anything confidential and keep it hidden from local governments as well as the public. The bill was rolled into the CPUC reform package negotiated with governor Brown and tweaked a bit, but those changes did not mollify utility lobbyists, particularly and vociferously those from AT&T.

A new version of SB 1017 was published this weekend – the legislature’s session has nine days of life left in it and closed door dealmaking is in overdrive. Hill’s original language has been slashed out of it and, as currently written, it reiterates CPUC secrecy while tossing in a meager bone that allows a city or a private citizen to challenge a decision to withhold information – but only under very limited circumstances.

Senate bill 745, by senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), extends a program that pays for broadband equipment – but not service – in public housing. Cable companies think that offering low cost or free Internet access to the 75% or so of public housing residents that can’t afford their services will dent the broadband and TV revenue they squeeze out of the other 25%. The latest version of SB 745, also released over the weekend, bans subsidies for Internet facilities if cable companies or other ISPs have wired a building.

On Friday, there might have been hopes of something like a even battle between community broadband advocates and deep pocketed industry monopolists – there were wins and losses on both side. This morning, after the whirlwind of weekend disclosures, it’s looking sadly lopsided in favor of the side with the most cash.