Last month, California Governor Brown turned his back on California telephone consumers by signing into law a bill that strips the oversight authority of the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC). Specifically, the law removes rate and quality protections for consumers of phones that function through Internet technology. This technology, called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), routes phone calls over Internet signals, and is offered by cable or DSL companies like Verizon’s FiOS, Comcast’s Digital Voice, and AT&T’s U-Verse. The experience is just like using a traditional phone since increasingly landline phones need Internet Protocol to be connected. The bill signed into law, SB 1161, effectively eliminates common-sense protections for all of California’s consumers who will be helpless when issues arise with their phone service, while tying the hands of the CPUC and local governments alike.
The sixth episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast features a discussion with Cheryl Leanza, broadband consultant with Progressive States Network. Cheryl has been very active in legislative battles at the state level, where she has helped to defend the public against anti-consumer deregulation led by AT&T, CenturyLink, and cable lobbyists.
Broadband has become essential, not optional — critical to the jobs, health, and welfare of millions of Americans. State legislatures around the country were focused on telecommunications infrastructure during 2012, although many bills this year seemed to be born of the rush to deregulate from last decade, seemingly unconcerned about the possibility that we could find ourselves without recourse when the technology goes down or fails to ensure that all people have access. This year, Progressive States Network has focused on two major areas of broadband legislation. The first has been community broadband, which ensures that local governments and non-profits can create their own broadband infrastructure when needed. The second has been the wave of right-wing inspired deregulation bills that would divide our country into haves and have-nots by eliminating the tools states use to ensure that small businesses, the labor force, and individuals have access to new technology. Both are, unfortunately, connected by strong efforts on the part of the ultra-conservative, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
A spate of destructive broadband bills has been sweeping across the country, spurred on by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Unbelievably, just as broadband Internet becomes an essential tool for millions of Americans, these states, following the pattern of the model ALEC bill, are making moves toward depriving states of any power to ensure reliable, competitive, and affordable service that serves all state residents — from small businesses to those on the other side of the digital divide. The companies behind these bills want the ability to choose to serve only the locations and the individuals that yield the greatest profits. It is simply not smart governance to leave state authorities without the power to ensure everyone can use such a critical asset.
Sometimes states operate against stereotype, and this legislative session is no exception. In contrast to a forward-thinking bill put forward in West Virginia earlier this year, which would have explicitly granted authority over high speed broadband Internet services, it seems the typically consumer-friendly and technologically savvy California legislature is considering moving in the opposite direction, taking up a policy that was endorsed by the ultra-right wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) when it was under consideration in New York State.
A rash of backward thinking appears to be taking hold in a number of states that might be better spending their time considering how to create modern technology jobs and skills at home. Some states are considering how best to deploy modern high-speed Internet to ensure their local economies and residents are ready to compete in the global marketplace. But in other states, legislators are debating whether telephone service should be offered at all - leaving many observers wondering whether they would prefer to live in the 19th century, before Alexander Graham Bell's invention became ubiquitous.
Should the phone company be required to offer basic phone service to a state’s rural residents? That’s the question currently being considered by a committee in Kentucky’s State Senate. The National Rural Assembly released a letter this week expressing concerns about the bill, SB 135, arguing that it “threatens access to what most consider a basic lifeline, including 911-emergency service, for Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Since state legislatures around the country have started their sessions in 2012, legislators and governors alike have been recognizing the importance of broadband (or high speed Internet) to growing state economies. Governors in states as diverse as Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, and Wyoming highlighted broadband initiatives in their state of the state speeches, as more and more of our leaders are realizing that without broadband, the U.S. economy is not going to produce jobs or the highly-skilled workers needed to compete in a global marketplace.