On May 10, 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission held its regularly-scheduled agenda meeting in Fresno. There were numerous public speakers addressing the pending bill to restrict the Commission’s jurisdiction over VoIP (SB 1161), and the meeting culminated in yet another “discuss and hold” conversation on the subject amongst the Commissioners. The Commission also extended the application deadlines under the revised California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) program, granted Ponderosa Cablevision a CLEC certificate, and rejected a CLEC application from 1800Call4Less for failure to disclose past regulatory investigations and consumer complaints. These and other items of interest on the Commission’s agenda are addressed below.
REGULAR AND CONSENT AGENDA ITEMS
- CASF Broadband Infrastructure Grant and Revolving Loan Program Application Deadlines Extended
(Item 18, adopted on consent agenda) – This Resolution approves an extension of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Broadband Infrastructure Grant and Revolving Loan Program application deadlines in order to coordinate the application filing date and CPUC review with updated broadband mapping data that should be published in June 2012. Based on this adjustment in schedule, the first application window for projects in unserved areas is now October 1, 2012. The second application window forprojects in underserved areas not previously funded by CASF, and hybrid projects covering unserved and underserved areas not previously funded by CASF is now February 1, 2013. A copy of the Draft Resolution associated with this item is available here.
- Ponderosa Cablevision Granted Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to Provide CLEC and Related Services
(Item 23, adopted on consent agenda) – This Decision grants Ponderosa Cablevision a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) to provide limited facilities-based and resold local exchange service as a competitive local carrier in California in the service territories of Pacific Bell Telephone d/b/a AT&T California (AT&T), Verizon California Inc. (Verizon), Citizens Telecommunications Company of California, Inc. (Citizens) and SureWest Communications (SureWest). The Decision relies upon an expedited California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review process for future limited facilities construction projects. A copy of the Proposed Decision associated with this item is available here.
- 1800Call4Less’s Application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity Dismissed
(Item 8, adopted on consent agenda) – The Commission dismissed the contested application of Network International Communications Corp. aka 1800Call4Less (1800Call4Less) for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to operate as a provider of resold and interexchange service within California. CPSD protested the application because of 1800Call4Less’s alleged failure to disclose past regulatory problems and consumer complaints in its application. The Decision requires 1800Call4Less to disclose this decision in any future applications to provide telecommunications services in California. In addition, the Commission declined to impose sanctions on 1800Call4Less for violation of the settlement communication confidentiality rule (Commission Rule of Practice and Procedure 12.6) even though representatives from 1800Cal4Less apparently disclosed a confidential settlement communication to the ALJ assigned to the case. A copy of the Proposed Decision associated with this item is available here.
SIGNIFICANT HELD AND WITHDRAWN ITEMS
- Senate Bill 1161 (Padilla) Prohibiting The CPUC from Regulating VoIP
(Item 50, discuss and hold to 5/24/12 by Commissioner Simon) – During the public comment session, there was a significant amount of public comment objecting to the Senate Bill 1611, a pending bill by Senator Alex Padilla that would prohibit the Commission from regulating Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Internet Protocol enabled services (IP enabled service) unless expressly provided otherwise in statute. Some speakers also asked that the Commission support the bill. SB 1161 would prohibit any department, agency, commission, or political subdivision of the state from enacting, adopting, or enforcing any law, rule, regulation, ordinance, standard, order, or other provision having the force or effect of law, that regulates or has the effect of regulating VoIP or other IP enabled service, unless expressly authorized by statute. The bill would specify certain areas of law that are expressly applicable to VoIP and IP-enabled service providers. The current text of the bill is available at the following link.
CPUC General Counsel Frank Lindh started the discussion of the bill by apologizing for a preliminary fiscal analysis prepared by a Legal Division representative that was sent to Senator Padilla apparently without final approval from the Legal Division. That letter stated that the fiscal impact of this bill would be $1 billion, which President Peevey dismissed outright. The letter had prompted a strong response from Senator Padilla. In further introducing the bill, President Peevey noted that there are differing opinions within the Commission’s Divisions (Legal and Communications) regarding the position the Commission should take on the bill – either oppose, or oppose with amendments. The Commission’s Office of Governmental Affairs prepared a memorandum summarizing these positions, which is available here.
Following the introduction from Peevey and Lindh, the Commissioners held an extensive discussion regarding the bill. The discussion in large part tracked the previous comments that the Commissioners provided at the last Commission meeting, but the Commissioners further expanded on their positions.
- Commissioner Florio noted his continued strong opposition because he “wouldn’t know where to begin in proposing amendments.” He believes that the bill is “extremely ambiguous in a number of places,” and even if it were clarified, the bill reads like the Commission could not do anything with regard to VoIP. In Florio’s view, the Commission shouldbe looking at possible VoIP-related issues, including as cramming and slamming.
- Commissioner Simon made clear that he would not support a blanket oppose position. He noted that SB 1611 is a bipartisan bill, and encouraged the Commission to work with the Legislature to define VoIP properly. He also addressed concerns about the loss of LifeLine service under the bill by indicating his support for technology-neutral Lifeline that includes VoIP. In response to concerns from the Communications Workers of America during the public session, Simon stated that there is still room within SB 1161 to address the safety needs of California communications workers. Commissioner Simon noted that CPCNs may already subject certain VoIP providers to CPUC jurisdiction, and that it does not appear that the bill would foreclose the Commission from relying on providers’ purposeful availment of Commission processes through CPCNs and possibly DIVCA franchises.
- Commissioner Sandoval urged the Commission to oppose the bill, and she engaged in an extensive discussion of how the bill would specifically affect CPUC jurisdiction, citing to sections of the Public Utilities Code and current Commission proceedings and practices that relate to VoIP issues. Sandoval emphasized that: (1) a Consumer Protection and Safety Division study revealed a large number of consumer complaints regarding VoIP providers, and that it is the Commission’s duty to balance consumer protection and competition issues; (2) VoIP providers often have CPCNs to act as competitive local exchange carriers, which is an exercise of jurisdiction over VoIP providers, and there is a close connection between VoIP and traditional telephone service; and (3) it is unrealistic to presume that the Federal Communications Commission could adequately handle customer-related complaints regarding VoIP service.
- Commissioner Ferron remains opposed to SB 1161, but agreed to hold off on a vote to allow the Commission to address the issues surrounding the fiscal analysis. He is concerned that telecommunications remains an essential service, and consumer protection becomes more important as technology advances. The bill, he believes, would interfere with the Commission’s ability to protect California consumers as to fundamental basic residential service and LifeLine regardless of the technology by which such services are provided.
- President Peevey stated that he was comfortable with the Communications Division’s position that the bill should be opposed unless amended. The primary focus of the Communications Division’s amendments is to ensure that the bill will not be interpreted to sweep away all jurisdiction over traditional telephone companies.
The Commissioners did not vote on the item. It will be on the next Commission meeting agenda for consideration.
- Transfer of Control From Cox California Telecom, LLC to Cox Communications California, LLC
(Item 10, held by Commissioner Simon for further review) – This Proposed Decision grants the joint application of Cox California Telcom, LLC and Cox Communications California, LLC for transfer of control of Cox California Telcom LLC from CoxCom, LLC to Cox Communications California, LLC as a result of an internal corporate reorganization. Once the transaction is consummated, Cox California Telcom, LLC will provide the cable television, high speed internet services, and other services in California that Cox Com, LLC current provides. A copy of the Proposed Decision associated with this item is available here.
SIGNIFICANT ENERGY ITEMS
- CPUC Provides Guidance on 2013-2014 Energy Efficiency Portfolios and 2012 Marketing, Education, and Outreach
(Item 30, adopted on regular agenda) – This Decision provides multiple forms of guidance to the state’s energy utilities to help establish energy efficiency programs, budgets for 2013-2014, and to continue a transition away from shorter time frame energy savings towards more long-term retrofits to the programs. A copy of the Proposed Decision associated with this item is available here.
- Commission Approves Seismic Program for San Onofre Nuclear Generation Stations
(Item 5, adopted on regular agenda) – This Decision approves $64 million in funding for Southern California Edison’s (SCE) request to conduct an ongoing seismic retrofit program and new seismic research projects and analyses for its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. A copy of the Proposed Decision associated with this item is available here.
NOTES AND COMMISSIONER REPORTS
Commissioner Reports were deferred to the next Agenda Meeting.