California cable lobby wants neutral regulation and it should have it

30 August 2016 by Steve Blum
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Equally attached to unequal laws.

When the California Public Utilities Commission allowed mobile phone carriers the same freedom to install wireless equipment on utility poles that wireline companies enjoy, it encouraged cable and telcos to ask for the same deal. It inferred that the path to approval would be open if they didn’t get stroppy about fine print that was written when copper was all there was. Like pole attachment rates that assume a thin cable and not a fat box full of radio gear.

The lobbying front for the California cable industry – the California Cable and Telecommunications Association – jumped at the offer. In a petition filed with the CPUC, CCTA said of course there’ll be no quibbling over the meaning of ancient texts: the same rules that apply to mobile carriers should apply to cable companies, because doing it any other way would…

Contravene state statutes and Commission precedent…which require regulation in a competitively and technologically neutral manner.

Just so. That is, or should be, the guiding principle for all telecoms regulation in the 21st century. Having one set of rules for companies that push bits through wires wrapped in foam and mesh, and another for those using twisted pairs of copper is anticompetitive and technologically biased.

Cable and telephone companies rely on a hundred-year legacy of regulations that originally granted them monopoly rights to provide specific services using particular technologies in the analog age, when telecommunications was defined by the physical medium used and not the information it contained.

I’m sure CCTA didn’t intend to make that point. It is a fierce defender of a system that allows cable companies to divide up territories amongst themselves and then operate within as unregulated monopolies. Telephone companies are no different. They also rely on a bespoke regulatory regime that produces a similarly satisfying result.

CCTA’s conclusion is correct. It should be applied across the full spectrum of Californian telecoms law and regulation, in a competitively and technologically neutral manner.