On Thursday, January 10, 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission held its regularly-scheduled agenda meeting. The meeting was very brief, and the Commissioners were in high spirits to start the new year. Among other actions, the Commission initiated a rulemaking to address copper loop retirement issues, and outlined its legislative agenda for the upcoming year. Further information about the telecommunications-related items on the Commission’s agenda is provided below.
REGULAR AND CONSENT AGENDA ITEMS
CALTEL Petition for Rulemaking Regarding Retirement of Copper Loop Facilities Granted (Item 35, adopted on consent agenda) – This decision grants CALTEL’s petition for rulemaking regarding copper loop retirements issues. The stated goal of the rulemaking is to “determine whether this Commission can or should impose rules governing . . . permanent removal or retirement of copper facilities in the local loop. The Commission will first assess whether any rules in this area are necessary, and then it will fashion rules to address any problems that it identifies regarding copper retirement. Each of the ILECs participated in the underlying petition proceeding to oppose the initiation of a rulemaking. The rulemaking will address the competitive concerns that animated CALTEL’s original petition, as well as a host of other concerns, including any backup power, customer notice, and other consumer protection issues associated with the removal of copper from telecommunications networks. Opening comments on the rulemaking will be due within 60 days of the effective date of the OIR, with replies to follow 30 days thereafter.
Although it was adopted on the consent agenda, Commissioner Chong made some brief comments at the outset of the meeting regarding this item. She stated that “although we are opening this OIR, we are going to be looking at this issue with our usual regulatory restraint.” She clarified further that “we do want to flush out as an initial matter” whether there are any issues to be addressed.
A draft copy of the OIR is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/AGENDA_DECISION/77367.doc.
CHCF-A Support Resolution Adopted, Res. T-17122 (Item 15, adopted on consent agenda) – This resolution adopts California High Cost Fund A funding for the California Small LECs. As set forth in the resolution, total yearly CHCF-A support for 2008 will be $29,992,397.76. No changes were made to the draft resolution in the final version. A recent copy of the draft resolution is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/COMMENT_RESOLUTION/76399.doc.
Commission Legislative Proposals for 2008 Approved (Item 37, adopted 5-0) – CPUC Director of Government Affairs Delaney Hunter presented this year’s Legislative Package to the Commission, and outlined the Commission’s priorities for potential legislation during 2008. Ms. Hunter’s report is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/WORD_PDF/REPORT/77490.DOC.
Of the listed objectives for 2008, five would impact the Commission’s regulatory authority in the telecommunications arena. First, the Commission would like to obtain a legislative endorsement for the California Advanced Services Fund surcharge, which was adopted in a decision at the last Commission meeting. Second, the Commission would like to modify the current voting restrictions on the public policy program advisory boards to allow for greater participation from carriers. Third, the Commission will pursue a narrow exception to the Bagley-Keene Act to permit DDTP Advisory Board members to conduct teleconference meetings. Fourth, the Commission would like to pursue an extension to the Rural Telecommunications Infrastructure Grant Program, and revise that program’s administration in certain other respects. Fifth, and finally, the Commission intends to seek various expansions to its enforcement authority, including an enhanced ability to seize personal assets of company executives where fraud has occurred. The Commission would also like to require the posting of a performance bond when the Commission opens an investigation, and the Commission would like to be given “creditor” status under the Code of Civil Procedure.
Ms. Hunter introduced the legislative package, briefly summarizing each item. She clarified that the proposed changes to the Commission’s enforcement power were intended as a response to the state Controller’s audit of the Commission’s enforcement authority. Commissioner Peevey then clarified that the Legislative Package recommendations represented the consensus of the CPUC legislative subcommittee. Following those comments, the matter was adopted unanimously.
Petition Proceeding Regarding Pole-Top Antennas Closed in Light of New Rulemaking (Item 23, adopted on consent agenda) – At its December 6, 2007 meeting, the Commission granted the petition of the G.O. 95/128 Rules Committee for a rulemaking to adopt further rules regarding the construction of pole-top antennas. In that order, the Commission neglected to close the underlying petition proceeding. This order corrects that oversight. A recent draft of the order closing the petition proceeding is attached at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/AGENDA_DECISION/77548.doc.
Race Telecommunications Granted CPCN in Large and Mid-sized ILEC Territories (Item 9, adopted on consent agenda) – This decision grants the request of Race Telecommunications for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to provide limited facilities-based and resold competitive local exchange and interexchange services in AT&T, Verizon, Frontier, and SureWest. The final decision is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/WORD_PDF/FINAL_DECISION/77645.DOC.
Century Marketing Application for CPCN Denied Without Prejudice ((Item 16, adopted on consent agenda) – This decision denies the application of Century Marketing Inc. for a CPCN based on Century’s failure to provide information to the Commission that would demonstrate sufficient financial capabilities to qualify as a limited facilities-based provider. Century could re-file its application if it complies with the Commission’s request for information. The decision denying the application is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/COMMENT_RESOLUTION/76399.doc.
SIGNIFICANT HELD AND WITHDRAWN ITEMS
AT&T Request to Grandfather Residential Service and Relinquish COLR and ETC Status Withdrawn (Item 6, withdrawn) – AT&T Communications of California, the long distance company and CLEC that was purchased by SBC, was seeking withdrawal of its status as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier and a Carrier of Last Resort in the former SBC territory. AT&T’s advice letter also requested that its residential local service be grandfathered on a going forward basis. This is the first request for voluntary discontinuation of ETC and COLR status that the Commission has considered, and it is not clear whether the advice letter process is the appropriate procedural vehicle for the request. The draft resolution on the Commission’s agenda would have granted AT&T’s request, but the draft was withdrawn before it could be considered. A recent draft of the resolution is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/AGENDA_RESOLUTION/77385.doc.
NOTES AND COMMISSIONER REPORTS
Commissioners Praise Post-Firestorm Workshop as a Success and Identify Future Areas for Commission Action Regarding Network Outages, Backup Power, and Emergency Response – Several Commissioners provided positive feedback regarding the workshop held last week in San Diego to address telecommunications issues associated with the “firestorms” in Southern California during the fall of 2007. Commissioner Simon noted that the workshop had an excellent turnout, and that he had learned a lot. He noted that the workshops were attended by utilities, local officials, legislators, and Commission staff.
Commissioner Simon remarked that the “telecommunications networks continued to operate at high levels” during the fires. He also stressed that improvements can be made, however, observing that “getting the word out is not enough in an emergency.” There needs to be follow-up as people cope with the emergency and its aftermath. Simon emphasized the role that 2-1-1 services play in this process. He also reflected that “most students no longer use landlines,” so he expressed hope that the Commission would work with wireless carriers and others to ensure that text messaging and other wireless-oriented technologies could be utilized to notify people about emergency situations. Simon stated his “vision” as one in which the state’s emergency personnel will be able to deliver coordinated messages to people in emergency-stricken areas in an efficient manner, and that messages would be possible on a regional and a local level. Of particular note in that regard was what Simon described as the “square loop” technology, which would allow officials to send messages to wireless devices that are physically within a particular geographic area, regardless of where the cell phone users reside.
Commissioner Chong also listed some “takeaway items” from the workshop. She underscored the need for further 2-1-1 rollout, and mentioned the possibility of creating a library of pre-packaged “in language” messages for distribution during emergencies. She also reinforced the need for emergency notifications to be accessible to hearing impaired and disabled individuals. Commissioner Simon echoed these sentiments, noting that disabled access should be a “top priority.” Both Commissioners promised that a variety of issues raised during the workshops would be the subject of further discussion in the proceeding. In closing, Commissioner Simon noted that a lawsuit may have been filed against certain utilities based on assertions that they contributed to property damage during the fires. Simon asked for a further report from staff on that issue.
Change in the Name of the CPUC Strategic Planning Division – Effective immediately, the Strategic Planning Division will now be known as the Policy and Planning Division. Division Director Julie Fitch quipped that the Commission is “going back to the future,” since that was the name of the Division a couple of decades ago.
Commissioners Devote Further Attention to Winter Storms and Outages – A discussion of the recent winter storms throughout the state took place at the end of the meeting. Commissioner Bohn jokingly declared himself the “snow Commissioner” in light of his involvement in water issues, and stated that he had “been working hard.” A conversation ensued about recent outages that PG&E and other energy utilities had experienced during the storms. The Commissioners vowed to further evaluate the manner in which various utilities’ services hold up during storms and other emergency situations.