California members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group sent a letter urging Governor Jerry Brown to veto Senate Bill 1161 (Padilla) citing threats to basic telephone access, 911 service, public safety, and future protections for Internet users. Governor Brown has till the end of September to decide on this special interest bill. The Veto Request letter was also sent to the members of the California Public Utilities Commission.
September 20, 2012
Honorable Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.
Office of the Governor
State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Rural Groups Urge VETO of Senate Bill 1161
Dear Governor Brown:
Senate Bill 1161 threatens basic communication services that rural people in California rely on every day. As law, it will remove existing protections for landline telephone customers, threaten access to emergency services – including 911 – for the state’s most vulnerable citizens, and prohibit California from implementing future protections for Voice Over Internet Protocol customers. We urge you to veto.
Your veto of this harmful bill ensures that Californians can continue to count on affordable, reliable, and life-saving basic telephone services, and look towards a future where we can be protected across all technologies.
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. SB 1161 would also exempt these companies from the oversight of the California Public Utlities comission, a state agency that protects consumers from unfair charges and neglect by telecomm providers. And, SB 1161 would prohibit any future protections for IP users, a measure that would only increase the digital divide.
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. Furthermore, preemptively prohibiting protections for Internet users poses too great of a risk to full participation in our democracy.
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.”1 Currently, the California commission has the authority to require all telephone service providers, including AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, to provide back-up power sufficient to maintain service and to take steps to remedy deficiencies. SB 1161 would eliminate that authority, leaving California powerless to act in a similar situation. For rural and remote California communities with fewer resources, a power outage during a natural disaster would be catastrophic.
Regulation of basic telephone and Internet Protocol-enabled services is elemental in securing a truly robust, profitable, and innovative telecommunications future for California. Californians need policies that understand the inherent connection between current and future technologies, and above all, prioritize their safety and need to communicate. Simply put, SB 1161 will enact the opposite and leave Californians vulnerable.
For all the concerns expressed above, members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group respectfully urge you to protect rural Californians by vetoing Senate Bill 1161.
Sincerely, California members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group:
California Center for Rural Policy
Center for Media Justice
Center for Rural Strategies
Redwood Coast Rural Action
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 email@example.com
1 “911 failure affected 2.3 million in Northern Virginia,” July 11, 2012. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/911-failure-cut-23-million-off-in-northern-virginia/2012/07/11/gJQAWGuedW_story.html