The California Public Utilities Commission is squarely back in the game of regulating broadband service providers, at least up to a point. That was the second shot across the bow fired in a ruling on Thursday ruling by a CPUC administrative law judge. In it, the commission declared that it would use broad powers it believes was granted by federal law to “remove barriers to [broadband] infrastructure investment”, as well as state law that charges it with deciding whether mergers it clearly does regulate – in this case, involving subsidiaries that provide telephone service – are in the public interest…
The ultimate test of a proposed change of control is whether or not it is in the public interest. The public interest is broader than the interest of the customers of the regulated entities in the price and quality of the services they receive from their providers.
The counter argument is that the state legislature took that power away, at least in so far as broadband providers are concerned, when it passed and the governor signed senate bill 1161 two years ago. That new law barred the CPUC, and any other state agency, from regulating “Voice over Internet Protocol and Internet Protocol enabled services” until 2020.
One of the exceptions in the bill, though, is when federal law gives the CPUC authority to do something. In this case, that something is promoting broadband competition and removing barriers to building broadband infrastructure. That’s why the commission will be putting Comcast’s proposed takeover of Time-Warner under a microscope.
As Thursday’s ruling acknowledges, there are limits to how far the CPUC can go. It can’t, for example, decide that ISPs are common carriers and regulate them as such. But since a decision last year when it reaffirmed its jurisdiction over certain kinds of telecoms infrastructure, the commission has been drawing a line between Internet services, which it doesn’t regulate, and Internet infrastructure, which it does.