February 07, 2012Administrative Law & Regulated Industries, Pipeline Safety Group, Telecommunications Alerts
California Public Utilities Commission Meeting Summary - January 12, 2012
On January 12, 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission held its first regularly-scheduled agenda meeting of the year. The Commission issued its long-pending decision in the safety infrastructure proceeding, adopting new rules to reduce fire hazards associated with overhead power lines and aerial communication facilities. The Commission also adopted new service requirements for telecommunications advice letters. Several significant telecommunications matters were held, including proposed revisions to the definition of basic service and new and revised broadband grant and revolving loan program rules. On the energy side, the Commission opened the penalty phase of the PG&E San Bruno explosion case. These and other items of interest on the Commission’s agenda are addressed below.
REGULAR AND CONSENT AGENDA ITEMS
CPUC Adopts New Fire Safety Regulations Applicable to Joint Utility Poles
(Item 58, adopted 5-0 on regular agenda) – The Commission adopted its Decision in Phase 2 of this proceeding to consider regulations to reduce fire hazards associated with power lines and aerial communication facilities. The Commission initiated the proceeding in 2008 following a season of extensive Southern California wildfires, some of which were ignited by power lines. In Phase 1, completed in August 2009, the Commission adopted rules for Southern California. In Phase 2, the Commission extended some of these requirements to “extreme and very high fire threat zones” in Northern California and considered additional measures intended to reduce the fire hazards related to overhead lines.
Among other things, the new rules require: (1) regular inspections by communication infrastructure providers (CIPs) of aerial facilities in high fire-threat areas; (2) placement by CIPs of markers on aerial facilities that identify the owner and provide contact information; and (3) removal of vegetation-related strain on conductors energized at 750 volts or less by electric utilities and CIPs.
The Decision also: (1) establishes a Phase 3 of the proceeding to provide a forum for the Consumer Protection and Safety Division to develop and submit a plan to collect and analyze data on power line fires in order to formulate measures to reduce the number of fires ignited by power lines; (2) identifies the regulatory mechanisms cost-of-service utilities should use to seek recovery of costs incurred in complying the regulations; and (3) denies parties’ requests to make undergrounding of power-line facilities part of a new rulemaking proceeding rather than addressing the issues in general rate cases.
Commissioner Simon spoke in support of the Decision and expressed his strong belief that the Decision will reduce fire risks posed by power lines and nearby CIP facilities. He indicated that the goal of Phase 3 would be to establish safety rules consistent with the risk of potential fire hazards and to consider revisions to reflect modern safety materials and practices as well as the integration of smart technologies into the process.
The decision adopted by the Commission is available here.
CPUC Authorizes New Service Requirements for Telecommunications Industry Advice Letters
(Item 2, adopted on consent agenda) – In this Resolution, the Commission adopted new rules governing the service of advice letters by telecommunications utilities. The Resolution provides that telecommunications carriers shall serve their advice letters on (i) any utility or person requesting to be served by specific utility filing the advice letter; (ii) additional persons identified by the Communications Division; and (iii) persons who have signed up to be served with advice letters related to six specific categories. The Commission will maintain service lists for the six categories and make those lists available on its web site to serving parties to fulfill their service obligations. The Resolution adopted by the Commission is available here.
Sierra Telephone Company Denied Authority to Sell Certain Facilities to Sierra Telephone Business Systems
(Item 27, adopted on consent agenda) – This Resolution denies a request for expedited authority pursuant to the Section 851 Advice Letter Pilot Program to transfer real property from a utility to its affiliate. Instead, the company may file a formal application to obtain such authority. The Resolution adopted by the Commission is available here.
Operational/Program Design Parameter for Provisions of Wireless Equipment Established Permanently
(Item 6, adopted on consent agenda) – This Resolution establishes operational and program design changes to the California Telephone Access Program (CTAP) to facilitate the provision of mobile devices to eligible participants. The CTAP is part of the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program (DDTP). The Commission made the provision of wireless devices a permanent part of the CTAP following various pilot programs. A copy of the Resolution adopted by the Commission is available here.
Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act Annual Fee of 4.23 Cents per Household Adopted
(Item 22, adopted on consent agenda) – This Resolution adopts an annual fee for fiscal year 2011-2012 of $0.0423 per-household to be paid by each state video franchise holder in its franchise territory, a 1.4% increase from last year’s fee. The fee was calculated to generate the revenue needed to meet the Commission’s authorized budget for DIVCA implementation. The Resolution adopted by the Commission is available here.
CPCN Granted to Dollar Phone Enterprise, Inc.
(Item 22, adopted on consent agenda) – This Decision grants Dollar Phone Enterprise, Inc. (DPE) a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) to operate as a provider of resold interexchange services in California. DPE currently holds a registration license as a resold interexchange carrier and provides prepaid card plans that allow customers to pay a fixed dollar amount in advance for long distance telephone calls. The proceeding is notable because DPE chose to obtain its operating authority through the formal application process rather than the more streamlined registration process allowed for those seeking to provide service as non-dominant interexchange carriers (NDIECs). As illustrated in the next item, NDIECs who receive their operating authority through the registration process must post a performance bond with the Commission. This requirement does not apply to those who receive their CPCNs through the formal application process. A copy of the Proposed Decision on which the Commission voted is available here.
CPUC Denies Worldwide Marketing Solutions, Inc.’s Petition for Exemption from the Performance Bond Requirement
(Item 11, adopted on consent agenda) – This Decision denies the petition for exemption by Worldwide Marketing Solutions, Inc. (WWMS) from the performance bond requirement for companies obtaining their NDIEC operating authority through the registration process. WWMS requested exemption on the grounds that (1) it provides a different type of service and was differently situated than other NDIECs, (2) it has only incidental intrastate revenues in California, and (3) the bond would be a financial hardship. The Commission rejected each of these arguments, finding that the Commission does not limit the types of customers that NDIECs may serve, the bond requirement itself does not depend on the amount of intrastate revenues (although the amount of the bond is based on intrastate revenues), and WWMS did not prove that obtaining bond would be a financial hardship. The Proposed Decision voted upon by the Commission is available here.
Billing Dispute Over Charges for International Calls Resolved
(Item 52, adopted on consent agenda) – This Decision resolves a consumer case against AT&T for $6,000 of phone calls allegedly made to Thailand from the United States by a relative of the Complainant. The Commission ordered payment of $3,031.62 to AT&T for the disputed international calls. The Proposed Decision considered by the Commission is available here.
Consumer Case Against AT&T California Dismissed
(Item 35, adopted on consent agenda) – This Decision dismisses a consumer complaint against Pacific Bell Telephone Company, dba AT&T California (AT&T) seeking damages because AT&T allegedly disconnected telephone service without following proper procedures. Because the Commission does not have jurisdiction to award damages, the case was dismissed. The Proposed Decision voted upon at the meeting is available here.
SIGNIFICANT HELD ITEMS
Rulemaking Regarding Revisions to Definition of Basic Service
(Item 62, held to 2/1/12) – This Proposed Decision would adopt revisions to the definition of basic telephone service that would be applied to carriers seeking to receive support from the California High Cost Fund-B or the California LifeLine programs. The current basic telephone service definition was adopted in 1996. The Commission’s stated goals in reviewing the basic service definition are to (a) consolidate and streamline existing listings of service elements, (b) apply technology-neutral terminology and definitions, and (c) avoid degrading standards necessary to meet essential universal service needs.
The Proposed Decision being considered by the Commission is available here.
Implementation of Broadband Grant and Revolving Loan Program Provisions
(Item 70, held to 2/1/12 by Staff) – This Proposed Decision would further the implementation of SB 1040 with respect to the existing California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Grant Program and the new CASF Revolving Loan Account. The Proposed Decision would: (1) increase the CASF grant funding limits to 70% for unserved areas and 60% for underserved areas; (2) provide for funding of projects involving middle-mile, backbone and backhaul; (3) allow for applications from satellite providers; (4) adopt a revised speed threshold for underserved areas of 6 mbps download and 1.5 mbps upload; (5) continue existing rules that restrict CASF grants only to regulated telephone companies; (6) maintain the existing requirement that applicants submit shapefiles of their proposed projects so that the proposed area map can be posted on the CASF webpage; (7) require applicants to include a plan to encourage adoption and sustainability of broadband service; (8) require monthly recurring charges be fixed for 2 years; (9) revise financial eligibility reporting requirements; (10) reiterate that basic service is not a requirement of CASF, but require applicants to ensure that compliance with the FCC’s E911 and battery backup requirements are met if voice service is provided; (11) establish separate application window deadlines for unserved and underserved projects; (12) maintain the current process for challenging an application as to the area being unserved or underserved; (13) retain the requirement that applicants attest as to whether the applicant has ever been sanctioned by the FCC or any state regulatory agency for failure to comply with any statute, rule, or order, or been convicted by any court for any criminal activity; (14) at the Small LECs’ suggestion, use number of households in a service area in lieu of service area (in square miles) for scoring of applications; (15) require certain information regarding the project be made available to the public; (16) decline to implement any open access rules; (17) require the applicant inform the CD if the project will not be completed within the completion date approved in the funding resolution; and (18) identify specific financial information required of applicants. A copy of the Proposed Decision being considered by the Commission is available here.
AB 1050 Re: Prepaid Mobile Telephony Services Taxes and Fees
(Item 70, held to 2/1/12 by Staff) – AB 1050 (Ma) would establish a uniform method for retail sellers of prepaid mobile telephony communications services to collect local and state communications taxes, fees and surcharges from customers. The recommendation of the Commission's Office of Government Affairs is to oppose the bill as presently drafted. The OGA Memorandum is available here.
YourTel America Inc.’s Request to Be Designated as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier in California
(Item 5, held to 2/16/12 by Staff) – This Draft Resolution would designate YourTel America Inc. (YourTel), a wireless reseller, as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) to provide federal Lifeline and Link-Up services throughout California excluding territories served by the Small Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers. A copy of the Draft Resolution associated with this item is available here.
SIGNIFICANT ENERGY ITEMS
- Commission Opens Proceeding to Consider Penalties Against PG&E (Item , adopted on regular agenda) – In opening the penalty phase of its proceedings related to the San Bruno pipeline explosion, the Commission’s Consumer Protection & Safety Division issued a report that finds PG&E violated state and federal law as well as accepted industry standards. A copy of the Report is available here.
- Commission Fines PG&E $100,000 Over Construction Issues in Seventh Standard Substation Project in Northwest Bakersfield (Item 26, adopted on regular agenda) – In this Decision, the Commission fines PG&E $100,000 for failure to comply with environmental mitigation measures in its construction of a substation in northwest Bakersfield. Pursuant to a settlement with CPSD, PG&E will also make a donation of $50,000 to the Endangered Species Recovery Program at California State University, Stanislaus. The Proposed Decision acted upon by the Commission is available here.
- Commission Approves More than 1,000 Megawatts of In-State Renewable Energy Capacity (Various Items) – The Commission approved five renewable energy contracts totaling 1,088 megawatts of capacity with forecast annual generation of 2,927 gigawatt hours (GWh). These include approval of three Southern California Edison power purchase agreements, one PG&E power purchase agreement, and one San Diego Gas & Electric power purchase agreement.
NOTES AND COMMISSIONER REPORTS
- Commissioner Florio announced public participation hearings and workshops to be held in various energy proceedings.
- Commissioner Simon discussed, among other things, a tour he took of the San Francisco E-911 Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), emphasizing the importance of such facilities in the event of emergencies, and appointments made to the Low Income Oversight Board.
- Commissioner Sandoval reported on her attendance at the Governor's conference on extreme climate risk and her participation in the annual Latino Leaders Reception at which she and Commissioner Simon received Champion of Diversity awards.
- Commissioner Ferron discussed future workshops planned about promoting access to capital for energy efficiency measures.
- President Peevey mentioned a public hearing to be held later this month on the damage caused by and Southern California Edison's response to the severe windstorms of last year and a California Broadband Council roundtable to be held later that day about the impact of federal universal service reform on broadband deployment in California.
Executive Director Clanon introduced a presentation by the Stewardship Council, established by a 2003 settlement agreement by PG&E with the PUC regarding management and conservation of the utility's extensive watershed lands.