Scraping up California legislature's telecoms road kill

12 July 2016 by Steve Blum
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The big impact telecoms legislation proposed so far in Sacramento this year is dead, the victim of opposition and inattention. That’s not to belittle the handful of telecoms bills awaiting action in August, but nothing that’s on the table right now would have the sweeping impact of some of the ones that didn’t make it.

Top of list was assembly bill 2395, a measure custom written by AT&T and carried by Evan Low, an accomodating assemblyman from Silicon Valley. It would have allowed AT&T to replace less lucrative landline systems in rural and inner city markets with wireless service, as well as getting the company out from under most of the California Public Utilities Commission’s regulatory purview. A storm of opposition, with AT&T’s unionised workforce at the center, stopped AB 2395 before it could get to a vote of the full assembly.

Mike Gatto, the chair of the assembly’s utilities and commerce committee, helped move the AB 2395 ball, as well as proposing another gift to big telecoms companies: AB 2788, which would have eliminated the already diminishingly small discretion cities and counties have over permits for cell towers and other wireless facilities. As a bonus, it would have also required them to lease municipal property to wireless companies. The bill popped up suddenly as a key deadline loomed, and then died just as quickly when it turned out that opponents weren’t napping.

Assembly bill 1758, by Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz), was a plan to pump $350 million into the California Advanced Services Fund, to be used for building (mostly rural) broadband infrastructure, as well as funding (mostly urban) digital literacy programs run by non-profits and broadband facilities in public housing. AT&T and the cable industry’s lobbying front, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, launched a two-pronged attack on it, convincing Gatto to block it in his committee and writing a competing bill that was introduced by another ally, assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward). AB 1758, and Quirk’s AB 2130, died in Gatto’s committee without a hearing.

Lawmakers will have the entire month of August to both work on existing bills and resurrect language from dead ones. A month is a long time in politics.

I’ve advocated for and helped to draft AB 1758 and its predecessors. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.