Tag Archives: SB1161

California telco deregulation bill amended, but not by much

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Burlingame pole 8aug2019

The latest, but probably not the final, amendments to assembly bill 1366 are posted on the California legislature’s website. It’s the bill that would extend a current ban on regulation of “Internet protocol enabled” services, including, particularly, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service.

The new version does not address the core objection of telecoms labor unions and the California Public Utilities Commission. They say that because AT&T and Frontier are switching customers from regulated legacy telephone technology to unregulated VoIP service, extending the ban on VoIP regulation would effectively deregulate telephone service completely in California.

On the whole, the new amendments track with suggestions made in the most recent legislative committee analysis of AB 1366. The biggest change to the bill is to the extension itself: it’s now five years instead of ten. Another change is that telephone companies that have obligations to provide a basic level of voice service to anyone that wants it – AT&T is the biggest example – would still have to do that, even if they were using VoIP technology.

There’s still a requirement in the bill for residential VoIP providers to “initiate steps to restore service within 24 hours of receiving a report of a service outage” and complete the restoration within 72 hours, although there’s a long list of exceptions to the rule. Language was added to clarify 1. that the California attorney general “may” – not shall – “institute and prosecute actions or proceedings to enforce” the new rules, and 2. that the CPUC has no “jurisdiction or authority” in that regard.

Other changes require the CPUC to collect consumer complaints and forward them to the attorney general, and allow the California office of emergency services to set some 911 standards.

The Communications Workers of America, AT&T’s biggest union, is strongly opposed to the bill, and democratic lawmakers have been visibly uncomfortable with the idea of going against their wishes. Right now AB 1366 is in the hands of the senate’s appropriations committee, which will decide behind closed doors at the end of the month whether it moves forward or not.

Telephone deregulation bill amended by California senate committee, but it’s still a hot mess

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Deregulation of telephone service – and with it, telecommunications infrastructure – moved ahead yesterday in the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee. Backed by AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast and other monopoly model incumbents, assembly bill 1366 was approved on a largely positive, but not quite unanimous vote. It extends a ban on regulation of voice over Internet protocol service (VoIP) by the California Public Utilities Commission and other state agencies. As the shift from old style, regulated telephone service to unregulated VoIP continues, the effect is to allow telcos and cable companies to back out from under the CPUC’s jurisdiction.

That’s a clearly stated goal of the bill’s author, assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego) who told the committee “we’ve got to figure out a better way than just handing something to the PUC, which would take ten years to get the kind of progress we’re making right now with this bill”.

AB 1366 was amended, but I don’t know exactly what those amendments are yet. Printed copies were given to committee members just before the bill was taken up. It appears that the changes are largely in line with recommendations in an earlier analysis by committee staff and will, to some degree, allow VoIP regulation in regards emergency services and “last resort” rural services.

Judging from the discussion, though, the bill is still confusing and contradictory, with drafting errors, loopholes and a vague and largely useless enforcement mechanism. Gonzalez said that more changes would be made later.

Gonzalez and a couple of representatives from non-profit groups (who demonstrated no particular telecommunications policy involvement or knowledge) spoke in favor of the bill. They were followed by long line of similarly irrelevant endorsers, led by AT&T staff lobbyist Bill Devine, and joined by lobbyists for Frontier, Comcast, Cox Communications, CTIA and Verizon.

Then came the opposition.

A representative from the Communications Workers of America, AT&T’s principal union, repeated arguments made in the assembly. CPUC commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves then made the case for keeping the commission in the game…

We know that millions of Californians do not benefit from any competition in the communications marketplace, that hundreds of thousands have no high speed broadband access, and a third of Californians – 13 million approximately – do not benefit from any competition. This is an oligopoly, it’s not a free market. This bill prohibits the state from guaranteeing essential and reliable communications services to all Californians, simply because the infrastructure has been upgraded. It will eliminate programs to insure infrastructure access to rural Californians, to the deaf, to the disabled and to the poor…

The bill is not about stifling innovation or apps like Skype. This bill is about deregulating the companies that own and manage the poles, wires and radios in California. Companies like Comcast and AT&T, not these apps. Under this bill, these companies will be left to their own sense of social responsibility…

They’ll decide which communities receive the next generation of technologies, like fiber, like 5G…they’ll decide whether or how quickly infrastructure is repaired or upgraded in poor communities and rural communities. They’ll decide whether they address complaints from local governments and your constituents…They will decide whether the service they provide is reliable and redundant so all Californians can reach 911 dispatchers at all times.

The next stop for AB 1366 is the senate appropriations committee, where more amendments might surface. That might not happen until the end of August. If it survives, it’ll go to a vote by the full senate. Labor organisations are strongly opposed to the bill, a fact that made Gonzalez visibly uncomfortable. If that opposition continues, all bets are off on AB 1366’s future.

California senate committee considers AT&T-backed bill to end telephone service regulation

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Darth leia 625

A bill that would extend California’s ban on regulation of “Internet protocol enabled” services, including voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service, is due for a hearing in the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee today. Assembly bill 1366, authored by Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego), would allow AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast, Charter Communications and other big, monopoly model incumbents to do an end run around California’s laws, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Several regional broadband consortia have also gone on the record opposing it. I drafted the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s opposition letter, which says, in part…

The current text of AB 1366 extends a ban on oversight by the California Public Utilities Commission of telephone service provided via Internet protocol technology. When first enacted, this ban made sense and had little practical effect, because “Voice over Internet protocol” (VoIP) service was in its infancy. The child has grown up, though, and VoIP is a fully mature service that is rapidly supplanting traditional, and traditionally regulated, analog telephone service.

There might be good arguments for ending state oversight of telephone service. We do not support that position, but it is an appropriate subject for debate and deliberation by the California Legislature. Such a drastic change in California policy should not be enacted through a back door maneuver, as AB 1366 would do.

As of this morning, the version of the bill approved by the California assembly is still on the table. It includes token amendments made in the assembly that have vague language about VoIP service quality, but are of little practical use. The senate committee’s staff prepared an analysis that confirms that the token amendments in the bill “are largely unenforceable”. The analysis proposes a few more marginal changes, but leaves the core of the bill – as pushed by AT&T, Frontier, Comcast, Charter and a long list of their financially groomed, um, friends – intact.

The amendment came in response to strong opposition from the Communications Workers of America, the primary union representing AT&T employees. They are still listed as opposing AB 1366. The key test today will be whether or not CWA members turn out to oppose the bill, as they did in the assembly’s communications and conveyances committee.

AB 1366 will effectively end telecoms regulation in California, CPUC says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cpuc graphic voip vs pots 24jun2019

Update: AB 1366 will be heard in the senate energy, utilities and communications the week after next (h/t to Adam Bender at Communications Daily for the heads up).

Assembly bill 1366 will block modernisation of California’s telecommunications grid and allow telephone and cable companies “to disregard California laws”, according to a position paper unanimously adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission yesterday. The commission’s opposition comes ahead of a California senate hearing on the bill scheduled for the week after next.

As first pushed by AT&T and authored by assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego), AB 1366 would have simply extended an existing ban on any regulation of “Internet protocol enabled” services by the CPUC or other state agencies. That restriction took effect in 2013 in order to give Internet-based services such as voice over Internet protocol telephone service a chance to develop in a competitive marketplace. At yesterday’s meeting, commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said it’s a different world now…

The original purpose of this bill has been more than fulfilled. VoIP was a nascent technology [when the ban was proposed], it is now a dominant technology and is going to overtake and replace landlines, and the services it provides are indistinguishable from those of traditional landline service. So, extending the bill now would be a barrier to consumer protections and our ability to protect public safety during emergencies. We can provide this regulation without, in any way, undermining competition.

That’s assuming competition exists. The CPUC’s concern isn’t the wide range of messaging, social media and other services that ride on the Internet. It’s about the replacement of regulated, old school copper-based telephone services with unregulated VoIP technology, as AT&T is aggressively doing. Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves said a “point that is raised often by the industry is competition is the solution to service quality. Unfortunately, we also know that the majority of Californians do not have competition”.

AB 1366 is still a work in progress. Strong opposition from the Communications Workers of America union caused Gonzales to backpedal during an assembly committee hearing in April, and her first try at amending the bill was not fully baked. It’s due to be considered by the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee on Tuesday, and it’s a good bet that it’ll be amended again.

VoIP regulation, or something, passes California assembly

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A bill that establishes consumer protections – of a sort – for people whose phone service is delivered via voice over Internet protocol technology, but otherwise leaves Internet-delivered services unregulated, was approved by the California assembly yesterday. Assembly bill 1366 passed with a lopsided, bipartisan majority: 64 votes in favor, versus six noes and ten abstentions, which have the same effect as a no vote. All the noes and all but one abstention came from democrats.

It’s still not clear exactly how AB 1366 would regulate VoIP service. Originally, the bill simply extended a ban on regulation of any kind, by local governments or state agencies, including the California Public Utilities Commission, of “Internet protocol enabled” services. That ban is due to expire at the end of the year, which worries the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox Communications. But there are two sides to every story and in this case opposition from the primary union representing AT&T’s workforce forced inspired the author, Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego), to add skeletal VoIP service quality and customer service standards to the bill.

What’s still not clear is who would figure out what the bill’s vague, high level standards mean in detailed, real world terms, or how they would be enforced. No cop on the beat is identified, which means it’ll be up to the courts to ultimately figure it out, a job which is likely to require years of litigation.

AB 1366 doesn’t deal with actual broadband service, it just addresses services like VoIP or email or social media that ride on top of it.

The bill now moves to the senate side of the California capitol, where its first stop is likely to be the energy, utilities and communications committee. That’ll be the next opportunity for Gonzalez to add some clarity to it. Stay tuned.

Consumer rules for Californian VoIP providers, but no particular cop proposed by new draft bill

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Twin peaks donuts

AT&T’s attempt to dodge regulation of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service took a turn down an unmarked legal road on Monday. Assembly bill 1366 is championed by assembly member Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego). As now reads, it would add rules about repair windows and bill credits for VoIP service outages to California’s business and professions code, but doesn’t specify any particular agency or method to police those requirements.

Generally, consumer laws are enforced by the consumer affairs department, or the California attorney general, or local district attorneys, or private lawsuits. I expect the enforcement mechanism will be made clearer as the bill moves toward an assembly floor vote. The one thing that seems certain – with due regard for my lack of legal credentials – is that the California Public Utilities Commission won’t be the cop on the beat.

As currently written, the bill gives the CPUC a limited role in collecting information about VoIP outages and complaints, but that appears to be mainly for statistical purposes, with the data forwarded to the attorney general and the legislature annually.

The version Gonzalez originally introduced would have extended a moratorium on state level regulation of VoIP or other “Internet protocol-enabled services”, but it ran into a human wall of labor opposition during a committee hearing last month. That union presence overpowered endorsements from a long line of representatives from vaguely connected non-profit organisations and lobbyists from AT&T, Comcast, Charter and other big telecoms companies that 1. don’t want VoIP regulated and 2. often make less-than-charitable payments to such organisations. Gonzalez promised to amend the bill, and make it more to the liking of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the primary union representing AT&T field employees.

Theoretically, those amendments were made last week, when AB 1366 slid out of the assembly appropriations committee, which Gonzalez chairs. In reality, the changes were posted on Monday. Whether CWA or AT&T will be happy with the new version remains to be seen. The assembly has until the end of next week to act on it.

Californiia bill that might or might not regulate VoIP moves forward in secret

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

An extended ban on regulation of Internet protocol-enabled services escaped legislative limbo last week, and is moving towards a vote by the California assembly. The big question now is: what does it say? Another major broadband bill, which would have funded after school broadband access for kids who lack it, died behind closed doors in Sacramento.

Assembly bill 1366 was originally written to extend a moratorium on any attempt by the California Public Utilities Commission to regulate voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) or any other service that rides on top of a broadband connection. It’s dearly loved by lobbyists for big telcos and cable companies.

In its first hearing, in the usually AT&T-friendly assembly communications and conveyances committee, a solid wall of red t-shirt communications union members stood up to oppose AB 1366, and the bill’s author, Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego), and the committee chair, Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles), backed down immediately.

Gonzalez promised to amend the bill so that VoIP service would be regulated somehow, but not by the CPUC. So AB 1366 was sent to the powerful assembly appropriations committee, which she chairs.

On Thursday, legislative leaders met privately to decide which bills, of the hundreds that were awaiting judgement in the appropriations committees (assembly and senate), would move forward and which would be killed out of sight of the public. Not surprisingly, Gonzalez’s bill got a green light, with the terse note that it was passed “as amended”.

Those amendments were not made public before the appropriations committee vote, nor have the changes been posted to the legislature’s website since. That’s not unusual. California legislators are not subject to the same public disclosure requirements that they impose on local governments, and they take full advantage of that privilege. So we’ll have to wait until Gonzalez is ready to show her hand. That should happen in the next week or two – the assembly has an end of the month deadline to vote on AB 1366.

AB 1409 wasn’t so lucky. The appropriations committee’s verdict on it was “hold in committee”, which translate as dead on arrival. Authored by Ed Chau (D – Los Angeles), AB 1409 would have created a subsidy program to provide kids access to broadband after school, via “Wi-Fi enabled school buses or school or library Wi-Fi hot spot lending” or similar. Such “homework gap projects” would have been paid for out of rent money collected from wireless companies that lease state property and fines imposed on cable operators.

VoIP regulation promised by California lawmakers after AT&T-backed bill boomerangs

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Feral kid boomerang

Once again, a higher power interrupted the ongoing love affair between AT&T, Comcast and friends, and the California assembly’s primary telecommunications policy committee. As with the last time, the central issue is voice over Internet protocol service, with major labor unions – particularly, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) – opposing an attempt to exempt VoIP and other “IP enabled services” from oversight by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Assembly bill 1366 would extend a 2012 law that bans the CPUC from regulating IP-delivered services. Originally, the extension was indefinite, but an amendment accepted yesterday during an assembly communications and conveyances committee hearing limits it to ten years. The law applies to services, such as VoIP or instant messaging, that ride on top of Internet connections, rather than broadband service itself.

The hearing began with the bill’s author, Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego), and an odd assortment of non-profit organisations using scare tactics to argue in favor of it. The implication was that if AB 1366 isn’t passed, the CPUC will make VoIP unaffordable or outlaw it altogether. Or kill the Internet. Or puppies. Or do something. Awful.

They were followed by a long line of other non-profit groups that don’t usually concern themselves with telecoms issues, but often have a history of taking money from companies that do. Such as AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications, Verizon, T-Mobile and others, whose lobbyists also made their presence known.

Consumer and telecoms advocacy groups opposing AB 1366 followed, but it was the speaker from the CWA and the solid wall of red t-shirt clad union members that seemed to grab lawmakers’ attention. Gonzalez quickly pivoted and said she’d work with them to figure out a way to regulate VoIP, because what she’s really afraid of is that the CPUC will do nothing…

We do want to and need to ensure that…the opportunity for service and for complaints and to have this followed up on is equal, and we are going to work with CWA on addressing that situation. I mean, the folks that we’re talking about, who are currently in opposition, I talk to them every day. Obviously, I’m not doing something to oppose labor. These are the people I come from and I represent and they live in my community. We want to provide a framework by which, actually, service will improve, that we can have access to service, that we will have restoration time guaranteed. If we left that up to the PUC, we might get a restoration time 14 years from now.

Translation: if CWA doesn’t cut a deal with AT&T, we’re going to regulate VoIP.

There are two issues in play. One is whether or not to treat Internet-delivered services the same way as largely identical, regulated ones.

The other is the CPUC itself. I watched three utility-related hearings yesterday, and the CPUC’s glacially slow decisions and idiosyncratic operations were bashed by all sides in each one. Legislative attempts to disestablish the commission, or reduce its scope of authority have been increasingly common in recent years. Most failed or were trimmed back, but that was while Jerry Brown was governor. He tended to shield the CPUC and executive departments from legislative micromanagement. Gavin Newsom might not be so protective.

California legislature looks at extending moratorium on Internet services regulation

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Internet services, such as telephone service via voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology, are unregulated in California. For now. Federal preemptions, or attempted preemptions, aside, the California legislature approved a seven year moratorium on regulating Internet protocol (IP) enabled services in 2012. Senate bill 1161 said the California Public Utilities Commission and all state and local agencies could not…

Enact, adopt, or enforce any law, rule, regulation, ordinance, standard, order, or other provision having the force or effect of law, that regulates VoIP or other IP enabled service, unless required or expressly delegated by federal law or expressly authorized by statute.

That ban will expire at the end of the year, unless the legislature renews it. In a gut-and-amend move on Monday, assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego) turned an obscure bill regarding the San Diego airport into a perpetual extension of SB 1661. Assembly bill 1366 takes out the sunset clause and makes a few meaningless tweaks to the language.

It leaves in place a distinction that wasn’t so obvious in 2012, but has taken on greater significance as the debate over network neutrality and whether broadband is an information or telecommunications service has intensified. The CPUC can’t regulate VoIP or other services that are built on Internet protocol technology, but SB 1161 drew a clear line between those kinds of services and the “broadband connection from the user’s location” that they ride on.

Pausing regulatory action for seven years while technology and service models matured was a good idea at the time. Trying to regulate new online services that evolved rapidly in an open market could have been disastrous for California’s high tech economy. With the benefit of that experience, though, it’s time to consider whether a blanket ban on IP services regulation is still needed. Some of that work began last year, when the California legislature passed a ground breaking data privacy law and its own version of network neutrality rules.

In particular, the carve-out for VoIP needs to closely examined. Seven years ago, VoIP service providers were fringe players. But with AT&T’s embrace of VoIP technology, not least because it’s a path to decommissioning rural copper networks and escaping regulatory oversight, that exception needs another look. Traditional, plain old telephone service – POTS – and VoIP provide virtually identical telecommunications functionality. Keeping one under the CPUC’s umbrella and not the other makes little sense.

AB 1366 will now head to the assembly’s communications and conveyances committee, which does not a have a good track record when it comes to thoughtful consideration of telecoms policy. This one needs watching.

Update: Brown signs SB1161, no new Californian regulations for Internet services

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,
California governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1161, which prevents state agencies, particularly the California Public Utilities Commission, from extending regulations and oversight to “Internet Protocol enabled service”, including specifically VoIP, until at least 2020.

In his signing message, the governor said “this bill encourages the continued growth of these and other innovative services that have become a hallmark of our state.”

The language of the bill is broad, covering any service that “enables an end user to send or receive a communication in existing Internet Protocol format, or any successor Internet Protocol format through a broadband connection, regardless of whether the communication is voice, data, or video.”

The fear or hope, depending on your point of view, is that incumbent telecoms companies will use this loophole to largely escape regulation altogether.