On January 11, 2007, the Commission held its regularly-scheduled agenda meeting. This meeting was the first of the new year, and the first without former Commissioner Brown. With only four Commissioners, the meeting was brief, and it addressed mostly uncontroversial matters. The Commission opened an OIR to examine “in language” issues, and reached decisions on some items relevant to the WMDVBE program and the Commission’s intervenor compensation program.
Further information regarding the telecommunications-related items on today’s agenda is provided below.
REGULAR AND CONSENT AGENDA ITEMS
OIR Opened to Address “In Language” Issues (Items 32, 33, adopted 4-0) – As has been long anticipated, the Commission approved a rulemaking today to “consider ways to improve services to California telecommunications consumers who do not speak English fluently.” The Order Instituting Rulemaking articulates a series of general principles to guide the Commission’s analysis, and also outlines some of the perceived problems in this area, and the Commission’s proposed solutions.
ALJ Weismehl introduced this item by recounting the history of the “in language” issue at the Commission. The genesis of this effort was the consumer protection proceeding, in which some parties raised concerns that limited English proficiency (“LEP”) individuals were experiencing significant problems in communicating with telecommunications carriers. Although the Commission’s March 2006 consumer protection decision did not adopt any rules in the “in language” area, it did initiate a series of workshops and public participation hearings on the issue that were conducted during 2006. These meetings culminated in the preparation of a staff report on “in language” issues. The staff report provided extensive demographic information, and also summarized the concerns raised during the workshops and public participation hearings. That document provided the factual and policy basis for this OIR.
Commissioner Chong made some brief comments in support of the OIR. She noted that there was not a sufficient record to adopt “in language” rules in the original consumer protection decision, but that the record on these issues has been augmented significantly since the issuance of that decision. Chong mused that California is “the most diverse state in the nation,” and that “through our diversity is our strength.” Chong expressed hope that this OIR could serve as a basis for preventing fraud against LEP consumers, and noted that the pre-proceeding machinations have already provided a lot more understanding of the issues that LEP telecommunications consumers face. Chong also acknowledged that there is a tremendous diversity of carrier practices and customer needs in California, and that all carriers are not the same. She wants to move the proceeding along quickly, and expects to reach a final decision by June 2007.
Commissioners Grueneich and Bohn followed up on Commissioner Chong’s comments with some observations of their own. Commissioner Grueneich reminded the audience that her alternate to the March 2006 consumer protection decision would have adopted some “in language” requirements. Grueneich applauded the issuance of this new OIR, and urged that the prior record on the subject from the consumer protection proceeding should be incorporated into the new proceeding. Grueneich once again renewed her plead that carriers who are marketing in a language other than English should be required to provide a written contract that language.
Commissioner Bohn observed that the process leading up to the OIR had been “extraordinarily useful” in itself. According to Bohn, “all sides of this debate have gotten to know each other and their sensitivities.” Bohn then emphasized that that avoiding “in language” problems is a shared responsibility. Carriers have a responsibility to communicate honestly with customers, the Commission has a responsibility to educate consumers, and consumers have a responsibility to seek our information.
Among others, the Commission will be evaluating the following issues in the OIR: (1) the state of carriers’ current “in language” efforts; (2) the availability of and need for improved “in language” disclosures and confirmation notices; (3) the use of “in language” communications with existing customers; (4) accessibility of “in language” customer service; (5) carrier accountability for the actions of third party dealers; and (6) prepaid calling card issues. Attached to the OIR is an extensive staff proposal regarding the types of general principles and specific rules that should be adopted out of this proceeding.
Comments on the OIR are due within 45 days of the date the OIR is issued, with replies to follow within 21 days.
Joint Utility Proposal Endorsed for WMDVBE Verification Procedure, CSID Resolution-001 (Item 17, adopted on consent agenda) – This resolution adopts a proposal by the major energy and telecommunications utilities regarding the operation of the WMDVBE supplier clearinghouse. The proposal continues the current role of Asian, Inc. in verifying WMDVBE participant eligibility, but shifts the contractual responsibility for that arrangement to participating carriers. The Commission will continue to oversee the program, and will remain the final arbiter of WMDVBE status.
This Resolution completes the Commission’s restructuring of the WMDVBE verification process that was called for by the California Department of General Services and effectuated in CPUC Decision 06-08-031. CPUC General Order 156 establishes goals for utilities with more than $25 million in annual revenue to meet regarding their use of women, minority, and disabled veteran owned business enterprises. Utilities subject to the G.O.’s requirements must report annually on their progress toward these goals. As part of the program, a “clearinghouse” operator has been verifying whether particular business enterprises qualify as WMDVBEs. Traditionally, that entity (Asian, Inc.) has had a contractual relationship with the Commission. In 2005, the DGS informed the Commission that this arrangement was no longer appropriate. As a result, the Commission issued R.06-04-011, and ultimately D.06-08-031. That decision directed the utilities to propose an alternative arrangement directly with the clearinghouse operator. This Resolution effectuates that outcome.
Further Reforms to Intervenor Compensation Program Adopted (Item 11, adopted on consent agenda) – This decision adopts further modifications to the Commission’s procedures for establishing appropriate intervenor compensation rates. Based on the decision, a 3% “cost of living” increase will be applied to 2006 intervenor rates, and another 3% adjustment will be implemented for 2007. The decision also establishes three tiers of rates for intervenor experts, similar to the five levels currently in place for attorneys. Further, intervenors will now be permitted to request up to two “step increases” of 5% each within each experience level. Finally, the decision permits intervenors whose rates have been most recently authorized at least four years prior to a pending request to seek a new rate as if the individual were new to Commission proceedings.
Cox Prevails in Interconnection Dispute with Global NAPs (Item 3, adopted on consent agenda) – This decision grants Cox’s motion for summary judgment in its dispute with Global NAPs regarding billings for intra-LATA toll calls terminated on Cox’s network. Under the parties’ interconnection agreement, the terminating carrier shall charge the originating carrier a fee based on minutes of use for terminating a call. However, “local traffic” and “ISP-bound traffic” are excluded from that rule. Cox’s summary judgment motion demonstrated that the disputed traffic in this case was neither local nor ISP-bound. In ruling in favor of Cox, the Commission rejected Global NAPs’ argument that its ISP-originated traffic was exempt from the terms of the parties’ interconnection agreement. The Commission found that the exemptions under federal law apply only to ISP-bound traffic, and that this was not that type of traffic. The Commission also cited the FCC’s IP-Enabled Services NPRM in support of its conclusion, noting that “any service provider that sends tariff to the PSTN should be subject to similar compensation obligations, irrespective of whether the traffic originates on the PSTN, on an IP network, or on a cable network.”
AT&T Customer Complaint Resolved Regarding Local Toll Charges for ISP-Bound Calls (Item 16, adopted on consent agenda) – An AT&T customer filed a complaint against the company in connection with toll charges incurred when dialing the customer’s ISP. AT&T refunded the disputed payments “as a matter of customer relations.” As a result, the Commission dismissed the complaint.
Greenlining Petition for Additional Intervenor Compensation Denied (Item 9, adopted on consent agenda) – Following the conclusion of the Verizon / MCI merger proceeding, the Greenlining Institute requested $116,623.46 for its participation in that proceeding. The Commission awarded just over $92,000, and Greenlining filed a petition for modification of the decision to augment that amount. This decision denies that petition, finding that Greenlining failed to demonstrate any grounds for its contention that it should be compensated for costs incurred after a final decision was reached in that merger proceeding.
SIGNIFICANT HELD AND WITHDRAWN ITEMS
Decision Addressing Intercarrier Compensation for VNXX Traffic on Small LEC Networks (Item 31, held by Chong until 1/25 for further consideration) – This proposed decision would clarify the intercarrier compensation standards applicable to calls with disparate rating and routing points, where the origination point is on the network of a Small LEC. Since it appeared on the Commission’s agenda in early November, this proposed decision has been held four times. The proposed decision has undergone at least six revisions since it issuance, as the Commission continues to grapple with how this traffic should be paid for.
Decision and Alternates Promulgating New Standards for Attaching Wireless Antennas on Jointly-Used Utility Poles (Items 29, 29a, 29b, Held by Peevey until 1/25 for further consideration) – These items would modify Rule 94 of General Order 95, and thereby adopt revised rules for attaching wireless antennas on jointly used utility poles and towers. Following a complicated procedural history, the Commission must now decide whether or not to endorse a settlement offered by the interested parties. The Chong alternate, item 29a, would adopt the settlement in full. Item 29b would reject the settlement in favor of a more restrictive approach to wireless antenna placement that includes additional protections against workers’ exposure to radio frequency emissions. That alternate was originally sponsored by Commissioner Brown, but is now sponsored by Commissioner Peevey. Item 29 has been withdrawn, since the ALJ now endorses the Brown/Peevey alternate.
NOTES AND REPORTS
Commission Announces New Hires, Including Five New ALJs – Over the past year, the Commission has hired a number of new employees in the Telecommunications Division and the Consumer Protection and Safety Division. Today, the Commission announced the hiring of 22 new members of CPSD, and 5 new ALJs. Of the five new ALJs, three have significant backgrounds in telecommunications: Jessica Hecht, Linda Rochester, and Richard Smith. Jessica Hecht has worked extensively in the Consumer Service and Information Division, and was the author of the “in language” OIR. Linda Rochester has been focused on the telecommunications public policy programs as a member of the Telecommunications Division, and has been intimately involved in the Rural Telecom Grant Program, the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program, the California Teleconnect Fund budgeting issues, and the Universal Lifeline Telephone Service income verification proceeding. Richard Smith has extensive experience at the Commission and in the industry. He has served as deputy director of DRA, and has worked in various capacities for Cox and Pacific Bell. The other two ALJs are Regina DeAngelis (formerly of Goodin, MacBride) and Victoria Kolakoski.
Legislative Subcommittee Recommendations Approved – On the consent agenda, the Commission approved five of the six Legislative Subcommittee recommendations. Of those two are significant to telecommunications. First, the Commission would like to “New Area Codes” chapter of the Public Utilities Code to reflect recent changes. Second, the Commission hopes to amend Section 884.5 of the Public Utilities Code to reflect the CPUC’s method of imputing a federal E-rate discount to schools and libraries that have not received an E-rate discount for the issuance of CTF awards.