Politics

Regulators put off reacting to phone de-regulation measure

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The California Public Utilities Commission held one of its travelling meetings in Fresno on Thursday. Many in the audience came to speak out against a bill critics say gets the phone companies off the regulatory hook.

Mark Toney of the Utility Reform Network, or TURN called Senate Bill 1161: "A special interest bill pushed by AT&T and the telephone industry to take away all the rights of consumers."

Senate Bill 1161 prevents any state agency from having any rules over internet phone service. But since most calls now are linked to the internet one way or another critics fear it would end the state's ability to regulate any phone services.

Val Afansiev of the Communications Workers of America Union warned of serious threats to public safety: "The day may come when a section of our state or a community goes dark and consumers can't reach essential services like 911, doctors."

Samuel Kang of The Greenlining Institute said the law would free companies to set their own rates and quit paying taxes.

"If SB 1161 passes this could have a devastating impact on the budgets of local communities, cities and counties across the state of California."

But Supporters of 1161 like AT and T and Verizon claim the present phone rules limit innovation and new technology. So, the board members of the California Public Utilities Commission decided to put off taking an official stand. Board Member Mark Ferron said they need more information. "Although I do oppose the bill as its currently written I do think it's appropriate for us to hold off on a vote here."

SB 1161 comes up for another vote in the state legislature next Monday, and the fear is the lack of action by the commission will be seen as an endorsement and California will be a step closer to complete de-regulation of the phone business.

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