Clear and limited mandate proposed for CPUC's broadband oversight role

8 April 2015 by Steve Blum
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OK to open it back up again.

A bill raising broadband standards in California also clears up any confusion about whether state regulators can do the job delegated to them by federal law. Assembly bill 238, authored by assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz), originally focused on upping the minimum acceptable service level to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up for projects subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). As just amended, it still does that, but also…

  • Levels the playing field somewhat for independent Internet service providers and cities and counties that want to chase CASF dollars. Incumbents and certified telecoms companies still would have priority, but all applicants would face the same restrictions regarding eligibility of areas for funding.
  • Gives a higher priority to areas where broadband service is particularly bad.
  • Allows the California Public Utilities Commission to update infrastructure standards in the future, to keep in line with federal benchmarks.

Most importantly, though, the bill now says that the CPUC’s job includes encouraging broadband deployment, which is a task that federal telecoms law splits between federal regulators and state commissions. The key paragraph is section 706 of the current telecoms act, which directs that the CPUC and their colleagues in other states…

Shall encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans…by utilizing…price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.

That section of federal law is the basis for the CPUC’s proposed conditions on Comcast’s consumption of Time Warner and Charter cable systems in California.

The confusion comes from a law passed three years ago that barred the CPUC from regulating Internet protocol services. It’s not about broadband infrastructure, though, and it specifically allows the CPUC to do work that’s required by federal law. But it’s a handy club for lawyers to swing, and Stone’s bill would take it out of their hands, without touching any of the limits actually placed on the CPUC by California’s existing public utilities law.

An assembly committee hearing on AB 238 is scheduled for next week in Sacramento.

Update: the hearing was bumped, now it’s set for the week of 20 April.

I’m involved in the AB 238 effort, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.