California telecoms policy reform dies in Legislature

1 September 2016 by Steve Blum
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The top line: an attempt (assembly bill 2903) to overhaul, or at least start the process of overhauling, the California Public Utilities Commission is dead; so, apparently, is one (senate bill 1017) aimed at releasing more information filed by utilities at the CPUC. Another, (AB 512), that’s intended to generally make CPUC processes more public, passed.

Going into the final, dark hours of the legislative session last night, several major utility reform bills were still in limbo, awaiting final language and votes. The uncertainty intensified as the midnight deadline drew near and capitol computer systems crashed. Not all the results and final bill language are online this morning, but this is what I have so far:

AB 2903 (assemblyman Mike Gatto, D, Los Angeles) – It’s dead, according to a tweet from Gatto. It was the Big Kahuna of this year’s CPUC reform bills. Besides shuffling some transportation-related oversight duties to other state agencies, it would start a top to bottom review of telecoms regulation in motion. Sorta. Maybe. The first draft of the bill had a detailed, and relatively even handed, list of broadband and telephone related issues to consider, but that was chopped out and replaced with a vague and general mission statement that was less directly threatening to all the interests at play. No details yet on why it died, although Gatto’s tweet simply blamed the clock.

AB 2168 (assemblyman Das Williams, D, Santa Barbara) – requires the California Public Utilities Commission to post utility audits and other reports on the web. It was passed by the legislature and now sits on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature, or veto.

SB 62 (senator Jerry Hill, D, San Bruno) – a last minute entry, it creates a public safety advocate’s office in the CPUC. As of early this morning, the legislature’s website indicates that the bill died. It’s possible, though, that the system hasn’t quite caught up with the late night flurry of activity.

SB 215 (senator Mark Leno, D, San Francisco) – originally intended to ban closed door discussions between commissioners and top CPUC staff and utilities and other interested parties about matters under review, it was dialled back to ban some conversations and require public disclosure of others. Passed by the legislature and sent on to governor Brown.

SB 512 (Hill) – a grab bag of reforms intended to open up CPUC processes to more public scrutiny. It was approved yesterday and is on its way to the governor. Exactly what was approved is unclear – the final language of the bill hasn’t been published yet. The link above is to the version posted a couple weeks ago. Maybe it’s the final final, maybe not.

SB 1017 (Hill) – it was supposed to allow the CPUC more discretion regarding whether or not to publicly release information filed by regulated utilities. SB 1017 was aggressively opposed by them, with telephone companies in the lead. The result was a significantly watered down version that did more to bake in secrecy than loosen it. It apparently died without a final vote yesterday, although, again, it’s also possible that the legislature’s online info will get a further update.