Five telecoms bills cling to life in the California legislature as deadlines pass

2 June 2020 by Steve Blum
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Compressed deadlines at the California legislature will leave several telecommunications bills for dead, as attention turns toward the 15 June 2020 constitutionally mandated date for passing the annual state budget. With weeks taken out of the normal schedule by the covid–19 lockdown, and committee work hampered by social distancing and quarantine measures, far fewer bills are expected to make it out of the Sacramento sausage machine this year.

Four bills are moving ahead: senate bill 1130, a broadband subsidy bill I wrote about last Wednesday, two bills that lean into broadband regulation – SB 1058 and SB 1069 – that I’ll write about later, and assembly bill 2421, which would require local governments to fast track permit approvals for emergency generators needed to keep cell sites running.

All four bills are in the appropriations committees in their respective houses. Typically, appropriations committees give bills a short, pro forma hearing, and then put them on ice until legislative leaders meet behind closed doors to decide which ones will go forward.

A fifth bill is stalled in the telephone and cable company-friendly assembly communications and conveyances committee. SB 431. Introduced by senator Mike McGuire (D – Sonoma) and joined by Steven Glaser (D – Contra Costa), the bill would have given the California Public Utilities Commission the job of setting performance reliability standards for cell sites statewide and for all other telecoms infrastructure in high fire risk areas. To say the least, that’s not a welcome change for AT&T, Comcast, Charter and other monopoly model service providers. Because it began life in the senate last year, the deadline for moving out of the communications and conveyances committee is 31 July 2020.

With the caveat that death is never final at the California capitol and bills can be resurrected at any time, this year roadkill includes:

  • AB 2163. A well intentioned bill by assemblyman Robert Rivas (D – San Benito) to improve connectivity at fairgrounds throughout California, it stalled when the covid–19 lockdown sent lawmakers home.
  • SB 1206. Authored by senator Lena Gonzales (D – Los Angeles), it aimed to set a statewide standard for microtrenching, which involves installing fiber optic cables in narrow street cuts. Or not so narrow – the bill would have expanded the definition of microtrenching to a technically ridiculous eight-inch width. SB 1206 never made out of the senate’s in-box.