Unanimous vote to bring California utility regulation back to Sacramento

by Steve Blum • , , ,

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.