Padilla’s AT&T backed bill places Californians in jeopardy | California Broadband Policy Network

Posted by on September 11, 2012

The wave of legislation upending U.S. communications protections fought for and reaffirmed since 1934, landed on the shores of California on April 17th. By voting to move Senate Bill 1161 forward, the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications placed our elderly, disabled and rural residents at risk in order to send a message about California’s commitment to innovation.

SB 1161, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, prohibits the California Public Utilities Commission from regulating Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Internet Protocol (IP) enabled services. Many telephone calls are currently negotiated via IP services, and soon, all of them will be. The bill therefore nullifies any current or future CPUC remedies to ensure that basic telecommunication functions, including 911 services, are accessible to low-income residents, those with hearing disabilities, and communities that live in areas deemed unprofitable by companies like AT&T and Verizon who back the bill. In fact, the bill eliminates any local governance over access, quality and price of these services for all Californians.

During the hearing, some proponents of the bill pointed out facts that actually support the best arguments against SB 1161. A representative from the Congress of California Seniors testified about the usefulness of VoIP services in preventing elder abuse and isolation. With such critical benefits as these we should certainly have a California agency empowered to ensure equitable access to the technology. Other SB 1161 supporters asserted that the “bill does not change anything” — that it merely reinforces the current regulatory practice. If so, then AT&T, Verizon and Padilla can usher in an “app economy” gold rush without trampling over California’s most vulnerable populations.

The proponents are right in saying we should keep the status quo. Here’s what it is: telephone service must be affordable and accessible to everyone. When it’s not, the CPUC can force the telecommunications companies to provide it. If service falls below acceptable quality standards, the CPUC can enforce improvements. Because copper, cable and fiber-optic telephone systems already incorporate VoIP, SB 1161 strips that ability away from the State.

In the future, Internet Protocol (or its successor) will govern even more services that we’ll want to protect. With the growth of the “Internet of Things”, we’ll become evermore reliant on the ability of networked household objects to deliver timely information. Some of these objects will help manage our finances, our safety, even our health. When critical devices like these fail due to service quality issues and there’s no local governance to protect us, we all become members of the vulnerable communities jeopardized by SB 1161.

AT&T and Verizon have used the dollars they’ve earned from ratepayers to buy passage of similar bills in more than half of our country’s state legislatures. More than half of our country’s state legislatures have made a mistake. California lawmakers: you should follow the lead of the innovators who have positioned us at what Sen. Padilla called the “epicenter’ of the tech revolution– Think different. Stop SB 1161.

 

–My blogpost urging action against CA Senate Bill 1161, written for the California Broadband Policy Network

Last modified on April 18, 2013

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