October 21, 2021 - 

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), in ongoing efforts to narrow the digital divide and improve disaster response, today adopted new post-disaster community engagement and reporting requirements for investor-owned utilities and telecommunications service providers in California. Today’s Decision also adopted eligibility requirements to help schools and students have access to reliable Internet access.

Today’s Decision imposes requirements on communications service providers and energy utilities related to coordination efforts and restoration of facilities in the event of a disaster, including wildfires, declared by the Governor of California or the President of the U.S. The utilities are required to:

  1. Provide the CPUC with information within 15 days from when the utilities are allowed into a disaster area to assess the damage;
  2. Meet in person with the impacted community to allow an opportunity to discuss any rebuilding and restoration plans within 30 days of being permitted back into a disaster area; and,
  3. Provide the CPUC with a summary of activities within 60 days after service is restored.

This reporting will provide disaster-impacted communities with more information and allow them the opportunity to provide input and share concerns with the utilities about the rebuild or restoration plans without significant delay. This Decision was developed in response to concerns from wildfire-impacted communities in years past who have had difficulties in seeking timely telecommunications services after a disaster.

“Californians have expressed frustration with energy investor-owned utilities’ and telecommunications service providers’ post-disaster community outreach efforts. Among other measures, our Decision today adopts common sense requirements for these providers to inform and consult with the CPUC, local governments and tribes, and the public regarding outages and service restoration following a natural disaster,” said Commissioner Darcie L. Houck. “Service providers must take seriously our request that they consider installing fiber or fiber conduit when rebuilding community networks after a disaster.”

The Decision also allows electric utilities to work collaboratively with communities that do not have access to high-speed Internet to build out their much-needed broadband infrastructure. “It is critical that California’s electric and telecommunication utilities respond to community needs in a timely manner as they rebuild after disasters, and it is often a great opportunity to build back better rather than replace infrastructure with the status quo,” said Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, the Commissioner assigned to this proceeding.

In addition, today’s Decision establishes eligibility requirements for the Digital Divide Account in the California Teleconnect Fund, which will provide $1 million in grant funding for pilot projects to help close the technological gaps for schools and students from urban and rural low-income small school districts. The projects, which are limited to one school year, must provide a holistic solution, including but not limited to, student home broadband connection and hardware requirements; student curriculum focused on the use of technology; and distance learning software and training for students and teachers.

Added Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma, “It is important that technology is available to all of our students, regardless of income. The Digital Divide Grants will make great strides in achieving equity and closing the digital divide in our low-income communities.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted disparities in access to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet service, especially in rural and low-income communities. Today’s actions follow many the CPUC has taken toward accessibility and further support the state’s work to deploy broadband in poorly served communities. In this proceeding, the CPUC will continue to explore opportunities for investor-owned utilities in broadband deployment.

On September 10, 2020, the CPUC opened this proceeding (R.20-09-001) to set the strategic direction and changes necessary to deploy reliable, fast, and affordable broadband Internet access services that connect all Californians. The core purpose of this proceeding is to accelerate the deployment of and access to quality, affordable Internet for all Californians.

The proposal voted on is available at: https://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Published/G000/M416/K528/416528291.PDF.

Documents related to the proceeding are available at: https://apps.cpuc.ca.gov/apex/f?p=401:56:0::NO:RP,57,RIR:P5_PROCEEDING_SELECT:R2009001.

For more information, please visit the CPUC Broadband Infrastructure Deployment page.

The CPUC regulates services and utilities, safeguards the environment, and assures Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services. For more information on the CPUC, please visit www.cpuc.ca.gov.


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