Green light for telecoms policy bills in Sacramento

12 August 2016 by Steve Blum
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Telecoms legislation is popular in Sacramento this summer. Legislative leaders allowed several important bills to move ahead yesterday, albeit without finalising all of the language. Negotiations and amendments will continue behind closed doors as the full assembly and senate get ready to vote.

The four bills that make up the grand package of California Public Utilities Commission reforms agreed to by the governor and three key lawmakers are moving ahead. Senate bill 215, by senator Mark Leno (D – San Francisco), tightens rules on who can speak with CPUC decision makers and when. It moved ahead on a unanimous vote.

Senator Jerry Hill (D – San Bruno) is carrying two of the bills – SB 512 and SB 1017 – and both are headed to the assembly floor, albeit with amendments yet to written. SB 1017 is bitterly opposed by telecoms companies – lobbyists from AT&T and Frontier, as well as smaller telephone companies, mobile carriers and the cable industry spoke against new rules that would give the public greater access to the information they file with the CPUC. SB 512 would open up CPUC proceedings to greater public scrutiny. Industry lobbyists successfully pushed back on provisions that would have allowed local governments to claim reimbursement for the cost of bringing actions at the CPUC, under some circumstances. That final language hasn’t been published, though. Both bills moved ahead without any republican support.

Assembly bill 2903 fills out the foursome. It sets the stage for a major reorganisation of the CPUC over the next few years – I wrote more about it yesterday. It has the distinction of never even being discussed or debated in a public hearing. Its author, assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles) took an unrelated bill that was already pending on the senate floor, deleted everything except the number and inserted a completely new bill using a time honored maneuver known as gut-and-amend.

Dig once requirements for Caltrans are moving ahead too. AB 1549 by assemblyman Jim Wood (D – Healdsburg) won unanimous support from both republicans and democrats on the senate appropriations committee. They also approved AB 2570 by assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward) with six ayes and one republican abstention. It makes the state telephone lifeline subsidy program more telco-friendly by making it much harder for recipients to change carriers. Another provision in the bill that would have required the CPUC to pay out the subsidies to telcos within 90 days was apparently removed, though, during closed door negotiations.

An extension of a program that subsidises broadband facilities in public housing also moved ahead. SB 745, by senator Ben Hueso, cruised through the assembly appropriations committee on a party line vote: democrats aye, republicans no.

The legislature has until the end of the month to make final decisions.

I’ve advocated for and helped to draft AB 1549, and I consulted on SB 745. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.