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

22 August 2016 by Steve Blum
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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.