The California Assembly has passed legislation allowing telephone companies to compete directly with cable operators without having to go through the tedious local franchising process. Assembly Bill 2987 would allow phone companies to obtain state-issued franchises rather than negotiate separately with cities and counties. The measure, which attracted widespread bipartisan support in the Assembly, is now headed to the Senate. Don Perata, California Senate President Pro Tem (D-Oakland), answered via e-mail some questions about the bill and how it will affect customer service in California. The bill goes to the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications on June 20 or June 27. If it passes there, it moves on for a full vote before the end of the legislative session in August. If the bill passes muster with the Senate, Gov. Schwarzenegger has until October to sign it into law.
Q: Can the state monitor customer service better than the municipalities?
A: Municipalities exist to provide public safety and other essential services to local residents. I’m not convinced it’s the job of local government to regulate giant telecom companies whose reach can cross city and county boundaries. We should ask local government to focus on what it does best. The state currently provides a number of regulatory functions across many industries and practices and we should explore whether we can help with this function. True competition will also help improve customer service.
What I would really like to see happen is for one of the state’s largest cable companies to keep it’s call center open in Irwindale. I understand as many as 200 jobs are to be lost there in December of this year. No question in my mind that closure will adversely affect customer service.
Q: Will the Public Utilities Commission handle customer service issues?
A: In it’s current form, the bill calls for the Department of Consumer Affairs to handle customer service issues.
Q: How does the bill safeguard against cherry picking?
A: First, I wish I could get cable at my house and I live in one of California’s largest cities. I’m not as worried about the potential for cherry picking as some. I understand the new entrants will likely build overhead areas first as they are cheaper and faster to construct. I didn’t major in business, but I do understand the importance of cash flow.
Q: Will customer service standards in the bill exceed those in existing law?
A: As presently written, no.