Special Interests Derail CPUC Vote

Phone company lobbying and influence have derailed a crucial vote by the CPUC on SB 1161

For Immediate Release From TURN, The Utility Reform Network

May 10, 2012, FRESNO, CALIFORNIA – Consumer representatives today said phone company lobbying and influence had derailed a crucial vote by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on deregulation legislation sponsored by the phone industry.  Advocates from around the state had joined local consumers in urging the Commission to stand up for the public and not cave in to industry demands for guarantees that no future regulations will require phone companies to provide universal service or allow the CPUC to resolve customer complaints.   Support for the bill came from community organizations and Chambers of Commerce funded by AT&T.

AT&T backed Senate Bill 1161 (Padilla), moving quickly through the state legislature, would tie the CPUC’s hands by eliminating its oversight over Internet-based phone services, which are used by a growing number of California consumers. It takes away the CPUC’s ability to hold providers of Internet-based (VOIP) telephone services accountable for customer disclosures or abuses, to require phone companies to provide low-income service, 911 access or decent call quality and to resolve consumer complaints.

“VOIP is becoming the only option for increasing numbers of Californians, and eventually all basic phone service will be provided using VOIP,” said Mark Toney, executive director of TURN.  “That means all customers, not just current VOIP customers, could lose their rights, and that the CPUC would be helpless to do anything about it.” 

Standards for service quality and line maintenance for clear, reliable calls would vanish under the bill as telephones networks continue to migrate to VOIP, and rural communities would lose guarantees of phone access altogether. Rules requiring fair billing and collection, protections against unauthorized charges, and in-language customer service would no longer apply to most customers.

“The CPUC should take a stand against this special interest legislation,” said Toney. “Phone industry growth, and profits, have hardly been hampered by regulations, and do not require carte blanche against any future oversight. It is inexplicable that the CPUC President indicated he would be willing to give away the Commission’s jurisdiction.  His agency is charged with protecting consumers, and if he doesn’t have the will to do that he should step down.”