We have issued a Proposed Decision
in our case that is examining competition in the telecommunications industry in California (I.15-11-007).
In two prior Decisions that largely deregulated traditional landline telephone service in California 10 years ago, the CPUC committed to remain vigilant and monitor the changes in traditional landline prices and services. In this proceeding, the CPUC has gathered data on the telecommunications market and its ability to provide just and reasonable rates for the diminishing, but still sizeable, population of landline telephone customers.
The Proposed Decision finds that voice communications and Internet access have rapidly converged—with voice, video, and other applications all available on a single device. As a result of that convergence, the economic and social importance of the telecommunications network has multiplied, making the network an essential 21st century infrastructure.
The Proposed Decision further finds that:
- Despite advancement in technologies and services, the digital divide between geographic and economic sub-groups of the State’s population has widened. Those Californians who lack reliable and affordable access to that network are unable to participate fully in the economy and society of the 21st century.
- Wireless and cable-based VoIP services have rapidly displaced traditional landline phones as the primary modes of voice communication in California.
- Competitive bottlenecks and barriers to entry in the telecommunications network limit new network entrants and may raise prices for some telecommunications services above efficiently competitive levels. One particular bottleneck is access to utility poles, where the CPUC’s safety mandate meets, and must be reconciled with, the CPUC’s goal of a competitive market.
- It is unclear whether the growth of wireless, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and other alternative means of voice and data communication have kept prices and services for traditional landline service just and reasonable, or even whether that question is relevant to a market in which most consumers obtain voice service in a bundle with broadband and other services.
- Voice communication is a diminishing segment of the broader telecommunications market, which includes data services and text communication, market segments that are expanding more rapidly than voice communication.
- The voice market is tied to the broadband market in a number of ways, including: 1) broadband is the network means of transmitting VoIP; 2) with the high incidence of service bundling, and the increased importance of broadband Internet access, for many consumers the voice and broadband markets have converged; and 3) traditional phone calls and broadband data services utilize the same physical network.
If the Proposed Decision is adopted by the CPUC, staff will be ordered to (a) continue to monitor developments in the telecommunications market; (b) obtain, compile, and publish actual residential broadband speeds obtainable by consumers throughout the state; (c) promote safe and non-discriminatory access to utility poles and conduits by cable and wireless companies; and (d) ensure that Public Purpose Programs, such as California LifeLine and the California Advanced Services Fund, continue to close the digital divide.
The earliest opportunity for the proposal to be taken up by the CPUC’s Commissioners is at the Dec. 1, 2016, Voting Meeting.