Big Win for ALEC, Transnational Telecom Giants
Despite the best efforts of consumer rights groups and universal Internet access advocates, the Goliath beat the daylights out of David this weekend with the signing of
California Senate Bill 1161.
The bill guarantees a regulation-free future for telecommunications corporations pushing to end the old land-line lifeline in favor of Internet Protocol telephones.
In his signing statement, Governor Jerry Brown (D–Oakland) pointed to the weak power of the California Public Utilities Commission to compile complaints and report them to the Federal Communications Commission and the Legislature as sufficient to keep the telecoms in line.
“VoIP providers will continue to contribute to the State’s universal service programs and provide E-911 access,” Brown stated.” The bill does not affect the authority of the California Public Utilities Commission regarding the construction and maintenance of facilities and access to utility support structures, including pole attachments.”
SB 1161 was hatched by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a 50-state spanning lobby of many of the world’s largest transnational corporations, including AT&T and Verizon.
It was in their interest that SB 1161 powered through the state legislature this summer, with the support of corporatist Republicans and neoliberal Democrats alike.
Lobbyists Jim Hawley of TechNet and Kristine Berman of TechAmerica crowed about their victory on their respective websites:
“The Governor’s signature on this legislation will improve California’s worldwide technology leadership by establishing an Internet policy that supports innovation, investment and job creation,” Hawley and Berman stated. “Continued investment and innovation will bring California consumers more of the products, devices and services like VoIP they want and that are enhancing their lives.”
The motley crew of opponents — including The Utility Reform Network, Communications Workers of America, Media Alliance and local legislators like Assemblymembers Wes Chesbro (D–Arcata) & Jared Huffman (D–San Rafael) and State Senators Noreen Evans (D–Santa Rosa) and Mark Leno (D–San Francisco) — were simply overwhelmed by the lobbying power and campaign cash of ALEC and the telecoms.
“Governor Jerry Brown’s signing message for SB 1161 yesterday indicates that he believes the promises of private industry when their advocates say they will protect consumers, ensure public safety and secure universal access to open internet services,” Access Humboldt executive director Sean McLaughlin stated in a release.
“Given the history of telecommunications market failure and the lagging status of universal access to open internet in California and across the US, we see a great need for localism, competition and diversity in the communication networks that form our marketplace of ideas,” McLaughlin said.
“These are not trivial goals that industry has failed to meet, in spite
of many past promises, huge subsidies and large profits. So, we do
not agree with the Governor’s assessment of SB 1161,” he added.
McLaughlin’s warnings were echoed last month in a Wired.com op-ed by Harvard Law School professor Susan Crawford, who blasted the Legislature for caving in on open access concerns in favor of private profiteers fully exploiting public airwaves and spaces.
“Reliable, affordable, high-capacity, and neutral communications services are a vital input to the entire range of California businesses,” Crawford stated. “But the carriers want to be able to charge everyone for everything, without any oversight, and without any obligation to serve everyone; they’d like to have a two-sided market, in which the communications provider not only charges the consumer for network access but also charges service providers for access to the consumer. Big companies are fine with this, because they’ll have leverage in these negotiations. Smaller companies, poorer Californians, startups, and society as a whole will suffer.”
“Like the wildfires that are racing through Northern California, the carriers are sweeping the country with bills like SB 1161, gutting legislative and regulatory authority wherever they can. Having an unregulated monopoly over a basic input into all economic activity is a great business. California is just an example of an overall trend. But it’s a very big and important example.”
The bill’s signature jeopardize parts of the Telecommunications Element under consideration next month by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors
as part of its General Plan Update process.
Read on for the full text of Governor Brown’s signing statement:
“Office of the Governor
September 28, 2012
To the Members of the California State Senate:
I am signing Senate Bill 1161 that limits California Public Utilities Commission (Commission) regulatory authority of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Internet Protocol (IP) enabled services until January 1, 2020. This bill encourages the continued growth of these and other innovative services that have become a hallmark of our state.
The existing consumer protections safeguarded by this bill are crucial.
VoIP providers will continue to contribute to the State’s universal service programs and provide E-911 access. The bill preserves enforcement of State and federal civil and criminal laws and local ordinances of general applicability, including consumer protection rules and proscriptions against unfair competition. The bill does not affect the authority of the California Public Utilities Commission regarding the construction and maintenance of facilities and access to utility support structures, including pole attachments.
Importantly, the bill emphasizes the Commission’s authority to monitor, track and report complaints from VoIP customers to the Federal Communications Commission, and empowers the Commission to report their findings annually to the Legislature.
I know the Commission stands at the ready to be diligent in this effort. Likewise, I expect VoIP providers to cooperate fully and promptly to resolve consumer complaints brought to the attention of the Commission.
Edmund G. Brown Jr.”