Posted June 4th, 2012 by seanm
State broadband bill hinders universal access to open internet
SB 1161 is an industry proposal that threatens consumers and public interests
Eureka, CA - Access Humboldt is expressing concerns and sharing information with the California Legislature and Administration about SB 1161, a bill that would prohibit and hinder the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and every local jurisdiction in the State of California from regulating, managing or developing Internet Protocol (IP) enabled communications services.
CA Senate Bill 1161 is sponsored by telecom industry players including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner among others. The bill was introduced by Senator Alex Padilla (D-LA) and put on a fast track for favorable consideration by the Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee chaired by Senator Padilla.
Through the State Senate review process, SB 1161 has been amended three times - most recently creating exceptions to address legacy regulations for land line communications. With these backward looking revisions to protect arcane rules, the measure subsequently passed through the Appropriations Committee review and the full Senate on May 29, 2012.
As the State Assembly received the measure on Wednesday May 30, 2012 the fundamental, structural problems with the Bill have not been addressed, so consumer advocates and public interests continue to actively oppose the Bill.
"To put it bluntly, SB 1161 will foreclose on the future for community-based efforts to develop broadband networks that are designed to serve local needs for public safety, public health, public education, public works and public media," said Sean McLaughlin, executive director of Access Humboldt and a Knight Media Policy Fellow with New America Foundation.
He explained, "IP enabled communications services include not only our basic voice telephony services, but also the broadband internet and online media services that we all use every day. By removing the State's expert agency and tying the hands of local governments, SB 1161 gives private interests unfettered control over the future of our communication systems." Further, he said, "This kind of preemptive anti-regulation moves us in the wrong direction, away from our goal of universal access to an open Internet!"
SB 1161 is now under review by the State Assembly and expected to be referred to the Utilities and Commerce Committee (UCC) - information regarding UCC is online here: http://autl.assembly.ca.gov/
Speaking for Access Humboldt, McLaughlin said, "we remain very concerned that the Public Utilities Commission, along with Counties, Cities, Community Services, Library, Community College, 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 Humboldt County's Board of Supervisors, Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, Rural Broadband Policy Group, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), and the California Broadband Policy Network, in opposition to SB 1161. [Testimony of those groups is attached below.]
Statewide consumer and public interest opposition to the bill is supported and informed by national organizations such as National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, Free Press, American Association of Retired Persons, 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."
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California Broadband Policy Network - "Padilla's AT&T backed bill places Californians in jeopardy"