LA assemblyman steps up to bat for big telecom

27 June 2016 by Steve Blum
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You’d think he’d be a Dodger fan.

Los Angeles assemblyman Mike Gatto is doubling down on his role as the California legislature’s key player on telecoms policy this season, and he appears to have decided he’s playing on the telephone and cable company team.

As chair of the assembly’s utilities and commerce committee, Gatto blocked a proposal to put more state money into broadband infrastructure – opposed by incumbents because it also empowers competitors – and greased the skids for an AT&T-written bill that would have allowed rural and inner city copper-line networks to be replaced by wireless service. Would have except that opposition, particularly from unionised telecoms workers, stopped assembly bill 2395 before it could go to a vote of the full assembly.

Gatto is carrying industry-friendly legislation of his own, such as a last minute bill to remove most of local government’s discretion regarding cell sites – including on city and county-owned facilities – and a constitutional amendment to disestablish the California Public Utilities Commission and bring utility regulation under the direct control of the legislature. Both bills were supposed to be heard by a senate committee on Tuesday, but were bumped to today. AB 2788 was subsequently removed from that hearing agenda and is now dead. ACA 11 apparently will be heard, although that could change too.

On the other hand, Gatto authored a bill to force “cable, satellite, and Internet service providers” to allow customers to cancel their subscriptions with a simple click on a web site. That would have blown a gaping hole in incumbents’ business models. Would have. Gatto’s enthusiasm for consumer advocacy died on the assembly floor along with his one-click unsubscribe bill, which was never offered up for a vote. It was finally stricken from file – killed for lack of attention.

He is addressing important issues – technology upgrades, CPUC reform, telecoms competition, environmental and administrative roadblocks, one-sided transactions – but in every case Gatto’s deliverable is the one that appears most friendly to big cable and telephone companies, rather than one that balances interests across all stakeholders.

I posed the question earlier: is he trying to build a legacy – he leaves office this year – or is he looking for a new job? I think we have the answer.