Rural communities get help from CPUC

Rural communities get help from CPUC

Posted December 15th, 2016 by seanm

Rural Disconnect Issues at CPUC

California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) adopts "Rural Call Completion" order
Increases performance and reporting requirements for telecom carriers in remote rural areas

Since April of 2014 following critical telephone system outages, Access Humboldt joined with other public interest and consumer advocacy groups statewide calling for new rules to address unreliable telephone service and communication failures - particularly those impacting public safety and health.

At the same time, the State Assembly established a Select Committee on the Digital Divide in Rural California chaired by North Coast Assemblymember Jim Wood.

In July of 2016, Public Participation Hearings were convened by CPUC in Eureka, Happy Camp and Ukiah in the North Coast region and also in other locations statewide.

NOTE: Access Humboldt provided video coverage of CPUC's Public Participation Hearings
in Eureka: https://archive.org/details/AH-ecc_7-18-16
and in Happy Camp: https://archive.org/details/AH-hpc_7-16-16
Related issues for 211 Humboldt were addressed at a meeting of the CPUC's Low Income Oversight Board online here: https://ia801503.us.archive.org/2/items/AH-hpc_9-22-16/AH-hpc_9-22-16.mp...

The proposed decision for Rural Call Completion, as presented for today's CPUC agenda (December 15, 2016) is available online here:
http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Published/G000/M171/K250/171250142...

The item was subject to minor revisions at today's CPUC meeting, and the vote was delayed until afternoon for consideration of concerns raised by Commissioners Peterman and Randolph who both dissented in a 3-2 vote.

“CPUC’s approval of this proposed decision will help repair our woefully inadequate and unreliable landline infrastructure,” said California State Assemblymember Jim Wood. “These are absolutely critical lifelines for North Coast rural communities, whether it’s trying to dial 911 or simply getting a dial tone. I applaud Commissioner Sandoval’s work on this issue and CPUC’s approval and look forward to seeing action from the carriers right away.”

Connie Stewart, executive director of the California Center for Rural Policy said, "We applaud today's decision at the CPUC. Increased reporting requirements and improved communication with telecom carriers, tribes and emergency services are crucial to understand and address the special needs of remote rural communities."

Sean McLaughlin, executive director of Access Humboldt shared this statement regarding CPUC's Decision on Rural Call Completion Issues, Other Call Completion Issues and Call Initiation Issues Including Lack of 911 Access and Dial Tone adopted December 15, 2016:

"While our nation considers a deep rural disconnect in the body politic, many rural communities are lacking infrastructure for essential communications services - including basic telephone! Today, the California Public Utilities Commission took decisive action to improve rural call completion statewide - a step toward bridging the rural-urban divide!

"Special thanks to CPUC Commissioner Catherine Sandoval for her leadership in conducting the thoughtful statewide proceedings that resulted in this landmark order meant to protect remote rural, low income and otherwise challenged communities where telecommunication carriers have failed to provide robust telephone service. Thanks also to CPUC Chair Michael Picker who champions public safety and partnered with Commissioner Sandoval on shepherding this measure through adoption.

"In addition to our Assemblymember Jim Wood, State Senator Mike McGuire and engaged Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, The Utility Reform Network (TURN) and our colleagues in Mendocino County played key leadership roles in advocating for rural voices and explaining the importance of reliable call completion for public safety and other public purposes."

Today's decision requires telecom carriers to give county-level Office of Emergency Services (OES) officials a 24/7 number to call and also requires much better reporting of rural outages - 300,000 user minutes vs. the FCC's 900,000 (PD p. 132-138). And of particular interest to remote rural communities, the decision requires carriers to give data to commission staff very quickly on any outages exceeding 90,000 user minutes (or more if determined by CPUC staff). (PD, p. 5)

The rules adopted by CPUC today could be one of the most comprehensive packages of telecommunications carrier public safety requirements in any state.

The decision documents causes of unreliable telecom service in rural areas that prevent customers from completing 9-1-1 calls and documents the experiences of California public safety officials and the public in coping with telephone service outages.

The decision requires that telecom carriers provide local and state emergency officials with a 24/7 number to contact regarding outages and hazardous conditions.

The decision requires carriers to provide data to the Commission that will provide information regarding rural phone outages that, prior to the decision, would not have been reported

The decision requires carriers to work collaboratively with public safety officials from communities throughout the state to develop processes to ensure local officials are fully informed about problems with telecommunications services.

The decision requires telecommunications carriers to give the CPUC data regarding maintenance practices, including potentially hazardous conditions involving communications equipment and vegetation in fire prone areas.

The decision also directs the commission staff to improve a tool on the CPUC web site that allows customers to report outages with their phone lines.

For more information, contact: Sean McLaughlin, c (707) 616-2381, e sean@accesshumboldt.net

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Sean Taketa McLaughlin is the founding executive director for Access Humboldt. He also serves as chair of the California Public Utility Commission's California Teleconnect Fund Administrative Committee and as a member of the Board of Directors for the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB.org) based in Washington, DC. http://accesshumboldt.net/site/sean-mclaughlin-short-bio
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Access Humboldt (http://accesshumboldt.net/site/) is a non-profit, community media organization formed in April 2006 to manage local cable franchise benefits on behalf of the County of Humboldt, California and the Cities of Eureka, Arcata, Fortuna, Rio Dell, Ferndale and Blue Lake.

Community media resources of Access Humboldt include: cable access TV channels; a wide area broadband network with dedicated optic fiber connections to twenty locations serving local jurisdictions, educational institutions and other public facilities; broadband access wireless networks; a Community Media Center with studio and other production equipment and training on the Eureka High School campus; a low power FM radio station (KZZH-FM96.7), and ongoing operational support for public, educational and governmental access media services from franchised cable operators in Humboldt County.

Access Humboldt’s Board of Directors convenes regular public meetings, provides local accountability and sets governing policy to guide the organization.
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