CenturyLink asks CPUC to bypass transparency and ethical practice

5 July 2017 by Steve Blum
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Insiders only.

CenturyLink wants the California Public Utilities Commission to hand wave its purchase of Level 3 through the normal approval process and, in effect, accept a settlement reached with three (of four) protesters as a substitute for a full, public review of the transaction. The pressure is due to a self-imposed deadline of 30 September 2017 for Level 3 and CenturyLink to close the sale. If the review follows standard CPUC procedures instead, a decision might not come for another six months or more.

Leaving aside the fact that the CPUC has to base its decision on the public interest of all Californians, and not just those who jump in on utility policy issues for a living, giving a big, regulated corporation an inside fast track is exactly the sort of thing that the California legislature meant to end when it passed (and the governor signed) senate bill 215 last year. CenturyLink is asking the CPUC to skip a couple of key steps in the process – a “pre-hearing conference” and a “scoping memo” – that seem to be required by SB 215 and are intended to end cosy, backroom deals. The idea behind SB 215 was, as TURN, a utility-oriented consumer organisation and the bill’s sponsor, put it, to introduce reforms that…

…are a vital first step toward restoring public confidence in the CPUC’s ability to decide crucial issues fairly, without bias or undue influence…SB 215 includes a series of meaningful reforms that close loopholes utilities have taken advantage of in the past, and limits the opportunities for private interests to seek special favors behind closed doors. Although these reforms are not as comprehensive as the ones vetoed by the Governor last year, they provide the CPUC with an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to transparency and ethical practice.

Damn straight. It’s a wonderful thing that advocates like TURN are fighting for the public’s right to know and participate in utility policy decisions.

Oh. Wait.

TURN is one of three intervening organisations that joined with CenturyLink to plead with a CPUC administrative law judge to ignore transparency and ethical practice and simply accept the deal they cut behind closed doors.

The thin justification offered is that delays will “diminish the benefits of the proposed transaction and the commitments made in the settlement”. Like allowing CenturyLink to kill Level 3’s dark fiber leasing business and turbo-charge its monopoly-centric business model.

Let’s hope the judge has a sense of irony.