State legislation threatens local access to broadband
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State legislation threatens local access to broadband

Posted April 13th, 2012 by seanm

Access Humboldt opposes State bill to restrict CPUC and local jurisdictions
SB 1161 threatens consumers and public interests

Eureka, CA - Access Humboldt presented concerns and information to the California State Senate on a bill that would prohibit the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and every local jurisdiction in California from regulating Internet Protocol (IP) enabled communications services. Senate Bill 1161 was introduced by Senator Alex Padilla (fact sheet attached) and was heard by the Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee chaired by Senator Padilla on Tuesday April 17, 2012 in Sacramento.

"IP enabled communications services include not only broadband internet and online media services, but also the basic voice telephony services that we all use every day," said Sean McLaughlin, executive director of Access Humboldt and a Knight Media Policy Fellow with New America Foundation. "We are concerned that the Public Utilities Commission, along with Counties, Cities, Community Services, School and other special Districts will be hamstrung by SB 1161, prevented from protecting consumers, and hindered from developing community broadband projects that meet our local needs and interests."

Access Humboldt has echoed concerns of The Utility Reform Network (TURN), Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, Rural Broadband Policy Group, and the California Broadband Policy Network, in opposition to SB 1161. [Testimony of those groups is attached below.] TURN is actively organizing statewide consumer opposition to the bill - http://turn.org/article.php?id=1848 joined by national organizations such as Free Press, AARP, National Hispanic Media Coalition and more.

Access Humboldt's testimony for the Senate hearing on April 17, 2012:

"Access Humboldt supports the intent of SB 1161 'Voice over Internet Protocol and Internet
Protocol enabled communications service' to promote continued innovation in the development
of Internet Protocol (IP) enabled communication services. And we support the bill’s stated
purpose, to 'Ensure a vibrant and competitive open Internet that allows California’s technology
businesses to continue to flourish and contribute to economic development throughout the state.'

However, we are concerned that the proposed bill would in fact prohibit regulatory oversight
of most digital communications, including broadband networks, by the California Public Utilities Commission. SB 1161 would completely tie the hands of local government jurisdictions, jeopardizing meaningful regulation, hobbling local enforcement authority, and foreclosing community development opportunities for services that millions of Californians rely on every day.

In our view, the CPUC and local jurisdictions have crucial oversight roles that require
independent jurisdiction to protect local consumers, advance the public interest, and implement
state and local policies. Both autonomy and flexibility are essential for CPUC and local
government jurisdictions to meet their public purpose. State policies need to strengthen CPUC
and local jurisdictions’ independent role to protect universal access to an open Internet.

As noted in SB 1161, 'The Internet and Internet Protocol-based (IP-based) services have
flourished to the benefit of all Californians under the current regulatory structure.' Yet, the
bill would change that structure, barring the CPUC and local government jurisdictions from
future oversight of IP enabled services: 'The bill would prohibit any department, agency,
commission, or political subdivision of the state from enacting, adopting, or enforcing any law,
rule, regulation, ordinance, standard, order, or other provision having the force or effect of law,
that regulates or has the effect of regulating VoIP or other IP enabled service, unless expressly
authorized by statute.'

And, by deleting important provisions of existing law (section 709 of the California Code), this
bill ends established State policy 'To continue our universal service commitment by assuring the
continued affordability and widespread availability of high-quality telecommunications services
to all Californians.' Why abandon this commitment to least served people and places?

We are asking that you withdraw SB 1161, or modify it to direct the CPUC to conduct a study
on how State and local public policy goals can be accomplished without diminishing our
commitment to assure universal access to an open internet. Thank you."

______

Current version of SB 1161: http://leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/sen/sb_1151-1200/sb_1161_bill_20120...

Current bill status: http://leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=sb_1161&sess=CUR&hou...

Some available write ups: http://turn.org/article.php?id=1848
http://www.progressivestates.org/news/blog/california-legislation-would-...

California PUC majority opposes phone deregulation bill (SB 1161)
http://lat.ms/ILSjTK

AT&T wields enormous power in Sacramento
No other single corporation has spent more trying to influence legislators in recent years. It dispenses millions in political donations and has an army of lobbyists.
http://t.co/mOJ2iVEk

Consumer groups fear deregulation of California phone service
http://t.co/1DeOeUrL

# # #

For more information, contact: Sean McLaughlin, executive director of Access Humboldt, e: sean@accesshumboldt.net