On October 14, 2010, the California Public Utilities Commission held its regularly-scheduled agenda meeting. During the meeting, the Commission’s Office of Governmental Affairs summarized the 2010 California Legislature session, including several key changes affecting telecommunications companies. The Commission also approved $6.6 million in CASF funding for the Central Valley Independent Network, LLC and CENIC to fund further broadband infrastructure in the Central Valley. On the energy side, the Commission continues to act expeditiously to deal with the San Bruno Pipeline Explosion, retaining a panel of independent experts to investigate and recommend changes to prevent or mitigate impairment to public services. These and other items of interest on the Commission’s agenda are discussed in further detail below.
REGULAR AND CONSENT AGENDA ITEMS
$6,659,967 in CASF Funding Approved for the Central Valley Independent Network, LLC and Corporation for Educational Network Initiatives in California (Item 45, adopted on consent agenda) This Resolution adopts funding for the Central Valley Independent Network, LLC and Corporation for Educational Network Initiatives in California from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) in the amount of $6,659,967. That amount represents 10% of the project costs to provide broadband service to unserved rural areas of Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties and 60 anchor institutions in 18 Central Valley counties. The Draft Resolution associated with this item is available here.
City of Huntington Beach’s Complaint Against NextG Networks Denied and Proposed Construction Approved (Item 23, adopted on consent agenda) – This Decision dismisses a complaint by the City of Huntington Beach challenging the proposed construction of antennas and related facilities by NextG Networks of California, Inc. (NextG) on the grounds that the City’s complaint was legally flawed. It further concludes that NextG’s proposed construction is authorized under NextG’s Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), specifically noting the Commission’s previous determination that competitive local exchange carriers and interexchange carriers are public utility telephone corporations entitled to make reasonable use of the public rights-of-way. The Decision adopts the Negative Declaration prepared by CPUC Staff under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Proposed Decision associated with this item is available here.
Statutory Deadline Extended in Proceeding Considering Changes to CPUC’s Application of CEQA to Telecommunications Utilities (R.06-10-006) (Item 27, adopted on consent agenda) – This Decision extends the statutory deadline for the Commission’s consideration of CEQA reform in R.06-10-006 until December 14, 2010. In R.06-10-006, the Commission is evaluating changes to the CPUC’s application of CEQA to telecommunications utilities under its jurisdiction. As part of that inquiry, the Commission intends to develop rules and policies that will: (1) ensure that CPUC practices comply with current CEQA requirements and policies; (2) promote the development of an advanced telecommunications infrastructure, particularly as it applies to broadband facilities; and (3) ensure that application of CEQA in the telecommunications field does not cause undue harm to competition. Citing the complexity of the issues in this rulemaking, this Decision extends the current statutory deadline to December 14, 2010. The Proposed Decision associated with this item is available here.
321 Communications, Inc. Granted a CPCN in URF Company Territories (Item 28, adopted on consent agenda) – This Decision grants 321 Communications, Inc. a CPCN to provide resold and limited facilities-based local exchange telecommunications services in the service territories of Pacific Bell Telephone Company dba AT&T California (AT&T), Verizon California, Inc. (Verizon), SureWest Telephone (SureWest), and Citizens Telecommunications Company of California, Inc. dba Frontier Communications of California (Frontier). The Proposed Decision associated with this item is available here.
SIGNIFICANT ENERGY ITEMS
CPUC Hires Experts for an Independent Review Panel to Investigate Cause of The San Bruno Pipeline Explosion (Items 35, 57 adopted 5-0 on regular agenda) – This Resolution authorizes CPUC staff to enter into contracts to hire expert-consultants for the Independent Review Panel in order to investigate the cause of the San Bruno pipeline explosion, and to prevent or mitigate impairment to public services. The CPUC has ordered Pacific Gas & Electric Company to reduce pipeline pressure to 80% of normal for its San Francisco Peninsula natural gas transmission lines, and the Panel is retained to review the safety of increasing the pressure of the pipeline that ruptured to full capacity by Thanksgiving. By item 57, the Commission voted to confirm members of the Independent Review Panel selected by President Peevey. The Final Resolution associated with item 35 is available here, and a press release identifying the hired experts is available here.
SIGNIFICANT HELD OR WITHDRAWN ITEMS
New Rules Addressing Resolution of Disputed Interconnection Agreements (Item 21, held to 11/19/10) – This Draft Resolution would adopt General Order 171, a new General Order outlining a process for resolution of disputes under Section 252 of the Telecommunications Act. G.O. 171 would modify the existing procedures by which the Commission arbitrates disputed interconnection agreements. This Draft Resolution would clarify the process that carriers should use to adopt previously-approved agreements, and make rule changes to clarify matters related to ex parte rules, pricing for unbundled network elements in arbitrations, applicable service lists for arbitrations and advice letter filings, as well as other minor modifications. The Draft Resolution associated with this item is available here.
Decision Adopting Consumer Protection Rules Governing Cramming Complaints (Item 44, held to 10/28/10) – This Proposed Decision would adopt California telephone corporation billing rules applicable to all billing telephone corporations (BTCs), including resellers and wireless service providers, and establish cramming reporting requirements applicable to all BTCs and billing agents. Under the presumption that “the record shows that unauthorized charges continue to vex California telecommunications carriers,” and despite the limited scope of this Phase of the proceeding (which was to adopt cramming-related reporting requirements), the Commission’s Proposed Decision would enact a sweeping set of rules related to billing generally. The Proposed Decision has engendered a large number of comments by carriers, who have almost uniformly objected to the Commission’s adoption of these rules. The Proposed Decision associated with this item is available here.
NOTES AND REPORTS
2010 Legislative Session Wrap-Up – Ed Randolph, head of the Commission’s Office of Governmental Affairs, summarized the 2010 California Legislative Session that just wrapped up. By way of introduction, Randolph noted that only two bills that the Commission was opposed to were signed into law. On the telecommunications side,
· AB 1315 (Fuentes) was sponsored by CALTEL, and requires the Commission to participate in any forbearance petition at Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by which ILECs might seek to modify duties to provide access to unbundled network elements. The Commission opposed the bill, but it was signed into law.
· AB 2213 (Fuentes) amends the Moore Universal Telephone Service Act in various ways that would remove barriers to including wireless services in the LifeLine program.
· SB 1040 (Padilla), sponsored by the Commission, adds another $125 Million in spending authority to the CASF program.
· SB 1462 (Padilla) establishes a “broadband council” to promote broadband expansion in the state, and the President of the Commission is designated as a member of the council.
· SB 1375 (Price) was described as the “highest profile telecommunications bill of the session.” This bill is designed to eliminate the statutory requirement that the incumbent local exchange carriers provide warmline service to all residential units, even if those customers have disconnected their service. The Commission had not taken a position on this bill. Commissioner Simon expressed an interest in the Commission getting involved in notifying the public of the changes to carriers’ warmline policies.
· SB 1157 (Sabillo) would have required all utilities offering CARE service to provide Lifeline and CARE customers with information regarding the earned income tax credit, but the Governor vetoed the bill on the grounds that it was not the responsibility of the Commission or the utilities to provide tax advice.
· AB 2545 (De La Torre) was an attempt to collect E911 surcharges on prepaid calling cards. It opposed by wireless industry and local governments, and it was eventually deferred to the next session.
California Emerging Technology Fund Progress Report – The Commission reported on the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) progress. The CETF’s purpose is to mobilize leadership statewide to close the digital divide by accelerating the deployment and adoption of broadband to unserved and underserved communities, and ensure that California is a global leader in the availability and use of broadband technology. The CETF has so far succeeded in granting $23 million to greater than 60 organizations, receiving $74 million in match funds (achieving a 1:3 leverage goal), has received 2 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) NTIA grants for 19 community-based organizations, and has $10 million in uncommitted seed capital remaining. The CETF goal is 80% overall adoption by 2015, and 90% overall adoption by 2020. A presentation associated with the Progress Report is available here.