Broadband regulation is beyond California's reach, sorta

27 March 2015 by Steve Blum
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The FCC put sharp restrictions on the role of state utility regulators when it decided to put Internet service and infrastructure under common carrier rules. But it did not write the California Public Utilities Commission completely out of the game.

Helen Mickiewicz, a senior attorney for the CPUC, told commissioners yesterday…

The order affirms the FCC’s longstanding conclusion that broadband Internet access service is a jurisdictionally interstate service for regulatory purposes and therefor beyond the reach of the states…The practical effect of that, actually, is not so different from where we were before. Because before, the FCC said it’s one unified information service and states you can’t regulate that. Now it’s saying, well, it’s two parts and one part is a common carrier service and we don’t want you getting involved in that.

Sorta. The CPUC still has role in managing pole attachment and other right of way rules, although – no surprise – the FCC’s decision is ambiguous about exactly what that means. Universal service responsibility is also shared with the feds. And state utility commissions can bring complaints about Internet service providers to the FCC.

Two pending CPUC decisions hang on divining the FCC’s intent. The proposed mega merger and market swap that would give Comcast control Charter and Time Warner territories in California – 84% or more of the state – is under CPUC review, but there doubts about the extent of its options. Google is asking for the same access to utility poles as cable companies. Under the old rules, the CPUC is saying no, at least tentatively, but the new rules can be interpreted as saying the opposite.

Both the Comcast merger and the Google pole attachment decisions have been kicked to May, at the earliest. Drawing the line between state and federal jurisdiction over ISPs will take even longer.