When Is a Phone Call Not a Phone Call? (When ALEC Says So)

When a Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline exploded in San Bruno, CA in 2010, pundits all over the nation called out for more aggressive supervision of the energy company, so Californians needn't fear having their homes burst into fireballs.

Wildfires and windstorms resulted in long-term outages across Southern California in recent years, caused largely by aging lines and overloaded power poles. At the insistence of legislators, millions of dollars in fines have been assessed.

Which makes it really puzzling when mandates for less utility regulation start sailing through the California legislature.

Do we only care after people die or lose the ability to communicate in an emergency?

SB 1161, co-authored by State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood), has passed the CA State Senate and will come before the Assembly later this summer.

The bill proposes eliminating statewide supervision of all Internet phone service (VOIP) -- until 2020.

Doesn't affect you, you say? It affects all calls when even one party uses an IP phone service, even if the other is on a land line or wireless phone. And if affects the lines over which all telephone data travels and the reliability and safety of those wires and poles.

As big telecom corporations like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner rebrand themselves as VOIP providers, the ability of California to hold them to basic service guarantees and fair business practices vanishes under this proposed legislation.

You would think a bill like this would be a response to strangling and suffocating over-regulation. You would think corporations would be asked to prove how the government is hurting their businesses.

But the truth is, there is almost no regulation of Internet phone service (VOIP) being imposed. This is a preemptive strike to prevent future actions on behalf of California consumers, and state-by-state, consumers across the country.

The telecom industry is trying to dictate the terms of their own future regulation as the industry shifts to VOIP networks and make themselves exempt from requirements for telephone service to be affordable, available to everyone, safe, and reliable in an emergency.

This is not just a California issue. Senator Padilla's bill has origins in a model bill by ALEC, The right-wing American Legislative Council, where is it is called The Regulatory Modernization Act.

Similar bills have been brought to many state legislatures, passing in Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, Alabama, New Hampshire, and Utah. However Kentucky, New York, Maine and New Jersey have fought and won against IP deregulation,

We ask the California Assembly and Governor Brown to stand with The Utility Ratepayers Network, Greenlining Institute, the Communication Workers of America, and Media Alliance (among many others) and throw this ALEC-inspired bill where it belongs -- in the trash heap.