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On January 25, 2007, the California Public Utilities Commission held its regularly-scheduled agenda meeting. Still with only four Commissioners, the meeting generally focused on consent agenda items, and items on which there was a consensus. The Commission adopted some new procedures for the submission of advice letters, and approved reply comments on the Missoula Plan. Some of the other significant telecommunications matters were held, including the proposed decision addressing the treatment of VNXX traffic in Small LEC territories.

Further information regarding the telecommunications-related items on today’s agenda is provided below.


REGULAR AND CONSENT AGENDA ITEMS

  • New General Order 96 Adopted (Item 3, adopted 5-0) – This decision adopts long-awaited revisions to General Order 96, the G.O. governing advice letter procedures. In introducing this item, Commissioner Peevey catalogued the long history of the General Order, noting that it was first adopted in 1952, and that it took a number of years before it was appropriately modified to reflect the modern environment. Due to competition in telecommunications, and a variety of other trends, the Commission has seen a “ten-fold” increase in advice letters since the General Order was issued. This process has resulted in back-approvals, stale advice letters, and other procedural anomalies that have become increasingly unsatisfactory to the Commission and the regulated utilities. As a result, the Commission has now released an interim version of G.O. 96-B, by a unanimous vote. This General Order contains general rules for all advice letters, and industry-specific rules for the water and energy sectors. Additional telecommunications-specific rules will be added upon conclusion of the Uniform Regulatory Framework proceeding.

  • CPUC Authorizes Reply Comments on Missoula Plan (Item 39, adopted on consent agenda) – This decision approves a Commission staff recommendation that the Commission file reply comments on the FCC’s Missoula Plan. On October 25, 2006, the Commission filed opening comments in the FCC’s Intercarrier Compensation proceeding. Those comments expressed the CPUC’s belief that the “Edge proposal” within the Missoula Plan does not have a broad consensus of support, and offered some other suggestions regarding improvements to the Missoula Plan. The proposed reply comments will bolster the Commission’s position regarding the “Edge proposal” by arguing that the proposal should apply only to “exempt rural telephone companies, two-percent carriers, and competitive carriers.” The concern underlying these comments is the Commission’s fear that extending the Edge proposal to other carriers may unduly harm competitive carriers. The Commission’s reply comments are expected to be filed on February 1, 2007, along with the other reply comments on the Missoula Plan.

  • Volcano Telephone Company Granted Authority to Issue $15.6 Million Promissory Note (Item 13, adopted on consent agenda) – This decision approves the request of Volcano Telephone Company to issue a $15.622 million long-term promissory note to finance its outstanding debt. Issuance of this note will likely save Volcano and its ratepayers between $175,000 and $200,000 in interest payments.


SIGNIFICANT HELD AND WITHDRAWN ITEMS

  • Decision Resolving Intercarrier Compensation of VNXX Traffic Transported over Small LEC Networks (Item 36, Held by Chong until 2/15) – 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 now been held five times, and the proposed decision has been revised eight times.

  • Decision and Alternates to Revise Wireless Attachment Rules in General Order 95 (Item 26, 26a, 26b, Held by Bohn until 2/15 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 decide whether or not to endorse a settlement offered by the interested parties. The Chong alternate, item 26a, would adopt the settlement in full. Item 26b 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 26 has been withdrawn, since the ALJ now endorses the Brown/Peevey alternate.

  • Decision Addressing Alleged Impermissible Ex Parte Contacts by Cox and AT&T Representatives (Item 37, Held by Peevey until 2/15) – This decision would penalize both Cox and AT&T for allegedly engaging in impermissible ex parte contacts with Commissioner advisors with respect to an ongoing adjudicatory matter. These allegations of improper contacts stem from a complaint case by UCAN against Cox and AT&T for supposed violations of the 911 warmline obligations under Public Utilities Code Section 2883. In June 2006, AT&T and Cox brought a motion to stay that complaint case, and a related motion to open a generalized investigation of warmline issues in the Commission’s local competition docket. Ultimately, both motions were rejected on their merits, and the complaint cases continued.

    During the Commission’s consideration of the carriers’ two motions, Cox and AT&T representatives met with Commissioner advisors on the subject. Although the carriers insist that they did not discuss the substantive merits of the complaint case, this decision finds that the intent of those contacts was to influence the outcome of that case. While the Commission has investigated the allegations of improper contact, the substance of the complaint case has been put on hold.


NOTES AND REPORTS

  • Commissioners Express Concerns Regarding Problems with Lifeline Certification and Verification Program – Commissioners Grueneich and Chong expressed major concern regarding the ongoing reports of problems with the new Lifeline certification and verification program. Commissioner Grueneich observed that the problems extend beyond the verification process that was suspended in November 2006. Since the Commission suspended the verification process, it has come to light that there are also major problems with the certification process. The Commission is being inundated with complaints on the subject, and it is having difficulties responding to all of the concerns. Commissioner Chong highlighted this problem by stating that the “hold time” in the Consumer Affairs Branch is now up to eight minutes, and that 40% of the callers are giving up before they get through. The Commissioners called upon the press office to undertake outreach to low-income and limited English speaking customers to explain the nature of the problems, and to explain how customers can seek assistance from the Commission. The Commission’s effort to resolve the many issues with the third party administrator and with the Lifeline program generally are ongoing, and the staff is now regularly briefing the Commissioners on the issues.

  • Chong Reports on Broadband Task Force – Commissioner Chong gave a brief report on the most recent meeting of the California Broadband Task Force, a group of public and private stakeholders that is devoted to evaluating broadband issues in California. That Task Force has been commissioned by the Governor to address broadband issues in California, including digital divide concerns and how to facilitate increased usage of broadband in California. The task force has now divided into a series of working groups, and will be submitting an initial report to the Governor in the coming weeks.

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