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On Thursday, June 12, 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission held its regularly-scheduled agenda meeting. The agenda addressed several significant telecommunications-related items, including the resolution approving the California Advanced Services Fund application procedure, and the decision modifying the CTF and various other public policy programs. These and other telecommunications-related items addressed during the meeting are summarized below.


REGULAR AND CONSENT AGENDA ITEMS

  • Application Procedures and Related Items Adopted to Facilitate Grants from the California Advanced Services Fund, Res. T-17143 ((Item 33, adopted 5-0) — This resolution adopts the application and scoring criteria for applicants for grants under the California Advanced Services Fund (“CASF”), a fund designed to provide subsidies to entities to deploy broadband in unserved and underserved areas. The resolution outlines 14 different application criteria, and a formula for weighing the different proposals in grant applications to determine how to direct CASF monies. Applications for grants applicable to “unserved” areas are due on July 24, 2008, and those applications will be addressed at the November 21, 2008 CPUC meeting. Applications for grants applicable to “underserved” areas are due on August 25, 2008, and those applications will be addressed during February and/or March of 2009.

    This item was introduced by Mike Amato of the Communications Division, and amplified in comments from Commissioner Chong. Chong reiterated that the CASF will encourage the development of broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas of California. She noted that the 3 MPS download and 1 MPS upload speeds in the application are just “benchmarks,” and that applications would not be rejected altogether if the applicants fail to meet those speeds. Rather, the speeds will just be one factor among others for the Commission to consider in evaluating how to allocate the grant money. Commissioner Chong also highlighted the importance of cost reduction in examining proposed grants, noting that she “wants to make sure that the lowest cost broadband service gets more weight.” Commissioners Simon and Peevey praised Commissioner Chong for her leadership on this item. To illustrate the importance of this issue, Commissioner Simon observed that 1.4 million Californians in rural areas still do not have access to broadband. He also underscored the difficulty of identifying “underserved areas.” Simon added that “just because an area is rural does not mean it is underserved, and does not mean that it is low-income.”

    Following these comments, the item was adopted by a unanimous 5-0 vote. A link to the final version of the resolution is provided below: http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/NR/rdonlyres/F7E6C3D6-C3E9-4186-99A1-2F674C8C3298/0/FinalResT17143CASF2.pdf.

  • Decision Modifying CTF, DDTP, and Payphone-Related Public Policy Funds Adopted (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 31, adopted 5-0) — By this decision, the Commission adopted certain modifications to the California Teleconnect Fund (“CTF”), Public Policy Payphone Program (“PPPP”), the Payphone Enforcement Program (“PEP”), and the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program (“DDTP”). Commissioner Chong introduced this item, noting that this is an interim decision, and that a further decision addressing the LifeLine program is being prepared, and will be “ready shortly.” In her opening remarks, Chong observed that “most of the programs are functioning quite well,” but that they “needed updating to reflect modern technologies and communications standards.” There has also been a need to “redirect” some of the surcharge revenues. Chong next summarized the changes to the CTF program. First, the CTF will be expanded to include the California community colleges as CTF-eligible entities. Commissioner Chong noted that the budget for funding community college discounts will be capped at $7.2 million, but she also assured her fellow Commissioners that the budget would not be a problem in accommodating the changes to the program effectuated by the decision. Second, the CTF will now facilitate discounts from both regulated and unregulated providers. Although unregulated providers will be permitted to receive discounts from the CTF, Chong emphasized that this decision should not be perceived as sweeping those entities under CPUC jurisdiction. Third, the decision directs the Commission staff to create a new CTF outreach assistance unit to help CTF-eligible entities obtain CTF funding. Fourth, the CTF program will be used to pay for 50% of the non-FCC-subsidized amounts on CTF-eligible services ordered by qualifying participants in the California Telehealth Network.

    As Commissioner Chong described, the decision also modifies the payphone programs. The decision eliminates the PEP, and folds the enforcement functions formerly allocated to that program into the Commission’s general enforcement responsibilities. Further, the decision revamps the PPPP to provide for no more than 50 public payphones in the state whose operators will qualify for a 50% discount on the otherwise applicable monthly charges. The decision directs the Commission staff to commence the program by July 1, 2009. The goal will be to identify low-income, remote, and high-traffic public areas where public policy payphones would be particularly useful in supporting public safety. The decision does not change the DDTP program, but Commissioner Chong expressed her gratitude to the deaf and disabled community for their spirited and thorough advocacy throughout this proceeding. Chong also noted that she hoped that the current pilot program to provide discounts on wireless handset devices would ultimately be made permanent.

    The other Commissioners expressed similar support for the decision. Commissioner Simon praised the expansion of the CTF to the community colleges, observing that the community college system is the “educational workhorse” of California. Commissioner Grueneich echoed Simon’s remarks, citing a study that 55% of community college students are from the lowest two income quartiles. Bohn offered support for the revival of the PPPP by observing that sometimes you find yourself in a remote area where there is no wireless service, and a payphone can be a godsend.

    The decision was adopted unanimously, and is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/FINAL_DECISION/84180.doc.

  • TURN Granted $83,223.00 in Intervenor Compensation in Connection with Access Charge Reform Proceeding (Item 29, adopted on consent agenda) — This decision grants The Utility Reform Network (“TURN”) more than $80,000 in intervenor compensation for its contributions to the three substantive decisions in the access charge reform docket, R.03-08-018. This award will be paid from the intervenor compensation fund. The final decision is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/FINAL_DECISION/84160.doc.

  • Sprint Granted Authority to Rescind ETC Status in California, Res. T-17150 (Item 43, adopted on consent agenda) — This resolution grants the request of Sprint PCS to relinquish its Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (“ETC”) designation in California. Sprint was first granted ETC status in California in 1998, by Commission resolution. However, Sprint never acted as an ETC in California, and never received federal Universal Service Fund (“USF”) support. By this resolution, the Commission concludes that Sprint has satisfied the conditions for relinquishing its ETC status under 47 C.F.R. Section 54.205, and that granting this request will not harm the public interest. The resolution is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/WORD_PDF/FINAL_RESOLUTION/84241.DOC.

  • Verizon Granted Authority to Condemn a Portion of a Private Road for an Underground Utility Easement (Item 32, adopted on consent agenda) — This decision approves a Presiding Officer’s Decision granting Verizon authority to condemn a portion of Summit Road in Santa Clara County sufficient to accommodate a utility easement. The landowners had opposed Verizon’s proposed easement onto their private road on the grounds that the easement was not truly necessary, and based on assertions that Verizon might harm the road and thereby make it impassible. In granting Verizon’s request for condemnation, the Commission cited the state’s interest in encouraging broadband deployment, and found that the condemnation was truly necessary to accommodate Verizon’s proposed project, which was necessary to bring broadband and enhanced voice services to the residents along Summit Road, as well as landowners in the surrounding area. The most recent draft of the decision approving this outcome is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/AGENDA_DECISION/84017.doc.

  • Utility Telephone, Inc. and Call America, Inc. Granted Authority to Transfer Assets to Call America Telecom, LLC (Item 6, adopted on consent agenda) — This decision authorizes the transfer of assets and operational control from Utility Telephone, Inc. (“Utility”) and Call America, Inc. (“Call America”) to Call America Telecom, LLC (“CAT”). Both Utility and Call America were CLECs with authority to operate in the large and mid-sized LEC service territories. A link to the final decision authorizing this transfer is provided below: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/FINAL_DECISION/84121.doc.

  • Complaint Against AT&T for Service and Billing Issues Dismissed as Moot (Item 12, adopted on consent agenda) — This item dismisses a complaint against AT&T alleging that the company had caused a customer to incur repair and wiring costs on her line to prevent recurrence of a service quality problem that the customer was experiencing. The customer had sought an $80 credit from AT&T, and the company ultimately provided that $80 credit, so the dispute became moot before it came time to adjudicate the case. The decision approving this outcome is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/FINAL_DECISION/84188.doc.

  • Statutory Deadline for Resolving UCAN/AT&T 911 Dispute Extended Until September 14, 2008 (Item 25, adopted on consent agenda) — The statutory timeline associated with the docket addressing the dispute between UCAN and AT&T regarding the latter’s compliance with 911 “warmline” requirements has been extended another 90 days until September 14, 2008. The Commission is still evaluating the Presiding Officer’s Decision, which has been appealed by AT&T. The decision approving this extension is available at the following link: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/FINAL_DECISION/84149.doc.


SIGNIFICANT HELD ITEM

  • Proposed Decision Adopting Final Analysis Report on Backup Power and Emergency Notification Issues (item 30, held by Simon until 6/26 for further review) — This proposed decision would endorse the Final Analysis Report prepared by the Commission staff to comply with AB 2393, a bill calling upon the Commission to evaluate backup power and emergency notification standards in California. As currently formulated, the proposed decision would adopt a rulemaking to enact further standards regarding backup power in connection with fiber-to-the-premise facilities. Commissioner Simon held the item for further review..


NOTES AND COMMISSIONER REPORTS

  • Commissioner Chong Provides Overview of New Prohibitions on the Use of Wireless Devices in Cars — In a brief Commissioner report, Commissioner Chong summarized the prohibitions in the SB 1613 and SB 33, the new laws preventing wireless devices from being used in cars. Chong noted that these two laws combine to impose penalties on any motorists who talk on wireless handsets while driving. The first offense is punishable by a $20 ticket, and subsequent offenses are punishable by $50 tickets. While adults will only violate this law by speaking into a handset, minors are wholly prohibited from using cell phones in cars. Chong did note that there are exceptions for emergency-related phone calls. According to Chong, these bills are backed by statistical evidence that 300 lives a year will be saved by the prohibitions on the use of wireless handsets. Following Chong’s comments, President Peevey remarked with skepticism that this is just another example of the Legislature being “intrusive” into our private lives, and he expressed surprise that there was any compelling factual basis for the prohibitions.

  • Commission Announces New General Counsel — Commissioner Peevey announced that, effective Jun 23, 2008, Frank Lindh will take over as CPUC General Counsel. My Lindh is currently an attorney with PG&E, and he will begin his tenure at the Commission once some administrative and conflict of interest items are resolved. Attached is the press release announcing the new hire: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PUBLISHED/NEWS_RELEASE/83532.htm.

  • Simon Announces New Additions to His Office –- Commissioner Simon announced a series of new interns in his office, including Marielle Florendo. Ms. Florendo will be working on telecommunications issues, including backup power, VoIP, and CHCF-B-related items.

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