Report — April 4

CALIFORNIA STATE LEGISLATURE

Next Gen 911 Transition. Senate Bill 1211 (Padilla) would require the Office of Emergency Services (OES) to develop a plan and timeline of target dates for testing, implementing, and operating Next Generation 911 emergency communication system, including text to 911 service, throughout California. The bill would also require OES, in determining the appropriate 911 surcharge rate, to additionally include costs it expects to incur, consistent with the plan and timeline to plan, test, implement, and operate Next Generation 911 technology and services. OES would also be required to annually prepare a summary of the calculation of the proposed surcharge and make it available to the Legislature and the 911 Advisory Board, and on the office’s Internet website. This bill does not increase the 911 surcharge.

California’s existing 911 system includes 458 existing 911 call centers that receive about 25 million 911 voice calls per year, with about 75 percent of all calls coming from wireless devices. The 911 program costs are paid from 911 surcharge on telephone customer bills, including landlines, wireless, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. Next Gen 911 refers to an Internet Protocol (IP)-based, two-way communications system that will enable real-time transmission of emergency-related voice, text, data, photos, and video between the public and public safety agencies. The federal government and states are currently preparing for this transition.

According to the Author, this bill will increase transparency and accountability for establishing the state 911 surcharge, and ensure that the fee is sufficient to fund the Next Gen upgrades necessary for 911 system, including text messages. The bill also requires coordinated planning of Next Gen 911 infrastructure with existing public safety communications systems. The bill is supported by AT&T, Frontier Communications, the Office of Ratepayer Advocates (ORA), and The Utility Reform Network (TURN), There is no opposition to the measure.

SB 1211 was heard and approved (9-0) this week in the Senate Utilities and Communications Committee and was referred to the Senate Governance and Finance (tax) Committee (“double referral”) for consideration on April 23, 2014.

Extension of California High Cost Fund A and B Programs. Senate Bill 1364(Fuller) would extend the sunset date of the California High Cost Fund A (CHCF-A) and B (CHCF-B) programs for four years to January 1, 2019.

Current law requires the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to establish and maintain several universal service programs to ensure statewide affordable telephone services and access to broadband and advanced communications services, funded by customer surcharges on landline, wireless, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services.

The CHCF-A program supports small independent telephone companies’ provision of basic service in rural, high-cost areas of the state. The program will sunset on January 1, 2015. The CHCF-B program supports large communications providers that are Carriers of Last Resort for the provision of basic services in the high-cost portions of their service areas. This program will also sunset on January 1, 2015. According to the Author, this bill will “help maintain lower rates for rural customers” where there is no business case for providing affordable communications services.

SB 1364 was heard and approved this week in the Senate Utilities and Communications Committee (9-0) and was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration on April 7, 2014.

Non-Rechargeable Household Battery Recycling Program. Assembly Bill 2284(Williams) would require producers of non-rechargeable household batteries to develop and implement a plan to collect and manage batteries sold in the state. As currently written, this requirement would also apply to any business that provides consumers with electronic devices that include disposable household batteries, such as a cable set-top box universal remote control.

The Author introduced the same measure, AB 488, last year which was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The language in AB 2284 was eliminated (“gutted”) and the provisions of AB 488 were inserted into the bill late last week, traditionally known as a “gut and amend” procedure.

According to the Author, more than 150 million household batteries are sold in California annually and yet only about five percent are currently collected for recycling. California classifies household batteries as universal waste which includes materials and substances hazardous to human and environmental health. Since 2006, universal waste has been prohibited from disposal in solid waste landfills. Local government hazardous waste collection programs have been unsuccessful in enforcing the law. This bill would require businesses to share the responsibility of properly disposing of household batteries.

Last year, AB 488 was supported by a number of local governments and environmental groups, and was equally opposed by a number business groups, including the California Cable & Telecommunications Association(CCTA). Since the measure was only recently amended, we are uncertain who currently officially supports or opposes the measure. CCTA opposes the measure because it would make the industry responsible for recycling household batteries that we do not control. Alternatively, the industry would be forced to remove batteries from cable remote devices, impeding the cable industry’s ability to demonstrate the functionality of our systems to our customers.

AB 2284 is scheduled to be heard on Monday, April 7th in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

Property Crimes; Disconnecting Communications Services. Assembly Bill 1782(Chesbro), as proposed to be amended, would increase the criminal fine up to $10,000 for any person who “willfully and maliciously” disconnects or obstructs any communications infrastructure or electrical lines. Pursuant to current law, the penalty is $500 penalty or up to one-year in the county jail. AB 1782 includes technical amendments to clarify that disconnecting communication lines includes eliminating the backup power supply, such as deep cycle batteries.

The cable industry has seen a dramatic increase in the number of incidents of willful damage to its broadband networks. Historically, cable networks primarily provided multichannel video service, but today provide advanced residential and business communications services and broadband bandwidth for large data centers and cellular towers (backhaul). Cable networks also support critical services like E-911, and are the basis for enabling telemedicine, emergency alerts, energy efficiency monitoring and home security services and other innovative technologies.

The California Cable & Telecommunications Association supports AB 1782. Dependable communication services are critical for public safety, national security and California’s economic sustainability. The measure is also supported by Verizon Communications, Frontier Communications, and Southern California Edison. AB 1782 is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, April 8th in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

FEDERAL UPDATE

Michael Powell appears before Senate Commerce Subcommittee on STELA.

On Tuesday, April 1, 2014, NCTA President and CEO Michael Powell testified on STELA before the Senate Communications Subcommittee. In his remarks Powell said the cable industry supported STELA’s reauthorization and repeated cables support for eliminating the set-top box integration ban, abolishing the basic-tier buy through requirements, and prohibiting broadcasters from engaging in joint negotiations for retransmission consent. In response to a question Powell said the cable industry supported the House language on eliminating the integration ban.

In his remarks Senate Commerce Chairman Rockefeller said that unlike many others, he thought that STELA should be a vehicle for making changes in some aspects of the video market place rather than waiting for “a mythical rewrite of the Communications Act, which always seems to be right around the corner.” He said the pending reauthorization of STELA gives the Committee an opportunity to evaluate if the overall video market place is operating for the benefit of consumers. He said the Committee should take opportunities as they arise and not wait for another day.

This position puts Rockefeller at odds with others who have supported a narrower reauthorization of STELA including ranking Subcommittee Member Roger Wicker who supported the House Commerce Committee’s direction to achieve a working consensus “on a narrow set of reforms”.

The Senate Subcommittee has not yet released draft language or set a date for mark-up of legislation.

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