Action alert: SB 1161

"California members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group sent a letter to Rural members of the California Assembly asking them to consider the threats to basic telephone access, 911 service, and public safety that SB 1161 poses to rural Californians. The special interest bill 1161 is up for a full Assembly vote Thursday 16. Please see the letter and help us share it widely."

August 14, 2012

ASSEMBLY FLOOR ALERT: RURAL CHAMPIONS NEEDED TO DEFEND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS IN RURAL AREAS
Protect Landline Service and Access to 911 in Rural – VOTE NO on SB 1161

Dear Members of the California Assembly:

Senate Bill 1161 threatens basic telephone service that rural people in California rely on every day. As law, it will remove existing protections for landline customers, prohibit California from implementing future protections for Voice Over Internet Protocol customers, and threaten access to basic telephone services, including 911, for the state’s most vulnerable citizens. We urge you to vote “NO” when this bill is considered before the California Assembly Thursday, August 16.

Your “NO” vote of this special interest bill ensures that all in California can continue to count on affordable, reliable, and life-saving basic telephone services, and have the tools necessary to prepare for community-wide emergencies.

Today most phone companies use Internet Protocol (IP) in their networks and most phone calls involve the Internet. SB 1161 allows phone companies to be exempt, as IP users, from regulation that requires them to provide basic landline phone service to rural Californians. In addition, SB 1161 would exempt these companies from the oversight of the California Public Utlities comission, a state agency that protects customers from unfair charges or neglect by telecomm providers.

As rural Internet advocates, we know the importance of having access to all forms of communication – communication is a basic need. Without access to basic telephone service, rural people are further isolated from economic and civic participation, and disconnected from the safety provided by our nation’s emergency 911-service network.

Since 1936, our nation has proudly upheld Universal Service, the principle to advance telecommunications services to the least served. SB 1161 gives telecom providers a free pass, and makes rural people more vulnerable. It eliminates services and fundamental protections necessary now and in the future. And it makes it harder to turn around hard hit communities when they lack the basic telecommunications services needed to participate and compete or to simply survive. Take for example the power outage that left “about 2.3 million Northern Virginia residents without emergency 911 service for up to four days after the June 29 thunderstorm, in part because a backup generator would not start, as a senior Verizon official told government leaders.”

As a representative of rural communities, you know that a power outage impacts rural communities in a catastrophic way. A contributor to The Daily Yonder, an online news source dedicated to rural news, noted about what this power outage meant to her West Virginia rural community: 

“This is not a part of the world where people tend to have paid time off for things like natural disasters. Most people work hourly jobs that don't pay you if you don't show up, or they run small-to-tiny farms and businesses that stand to lose big or even fold in the face of a week or more without water or transportation. So say you're stranded 30 miles from town with tiny kids begging for milk (I am not exaggerating — toddlers can't have milk if there's no refrigeration and no cow), you're losing at least a quarter of your income this month, all of the food in your fridge and freezer is rotting, your toilet doesn't work, and you have to ration your last couple of gallons of gas to haul drinking water from the nearest spring (or church or firehouse doing relief work). Sure it's hot, but you're not worried about the air conditioning.”

Californians need protections that prioritize the safety, emergency preparedness, and need to communicate of all Californians. Simply put, SB 1161 will leave rural more vulnerable.

For all the concerns expressed above, members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group respectfully urge you to protect rural Californians by voting NO on SB 1161.

Sincerely, California members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group

Access Humboldt
California Center for Rural Policy Center for Media Justice
Center for Rural Strategies

Edyael Casaperalta

RBPG Coordinator

Rural Broadband Policy Group is a growing national coalition of rural broadband advocates with two goals: 1) to articulate national broadband policies that provide opportunities for rural communities to participate fully in the nation’s democracy, economy, culture, and society, and 2) to spark and kindle collaboration among rural advocates for fast, affordable, and reliable Internet.

For more information, please contact: Edyael Casaperalta at edyael@ruralstrategies.org