Eminent Domain Threatened in California

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As dueling bills on property access plod their way through
both California legislative houses, cable operators have lined up against a Senate version
that could eliminate the use of eminent domain by telephony competitors.

Utilities use that policy to gain access to on-premise
plant and vaults. Later, a court of law determines how much compensation the predecessor
deserves for the loss of infrastructure.

It hasn't been used often, because competition is
nascent, but new telecommunications companies believe that the loss of the policy will be
another setback to choice among providers.

An amendment to the bill would direct competitors to the
overburdened state Public Utilities Commission, which would determine, on a
building-by-building basis, if a competitor was justified in taking over wiring in a
building.

"Under current law, once a certificate of necessity is
issued, the public-service issue is assumed," said Dennis Mangers, vice president of
governmental affairs for the California Cable Television Association.

The Senate bill is before that body's Judiciary
Committee, because if the bill amends the state Public Utilities Act, use of eminent
domain by utilities would become a crime.

The cable lobby will work to pass an alternate bill
introduced in the Assembly. It would add language to the current Public Utilities Code and
codify property owners' rights to negotiate their own telecommunications-access
deals.

Backers said this would allow landlords to craft deals
covering many of their objections to outside parties entering a building, such as who will
assume liability for worker injury and who will pay for vault expansion.

The Assembly version would also require landlords to
disclose the terms of their telecommunications deals to tenants.

Observers noted that the sponsor of the Senate version
(S.B.177) is Steve Peace (D-El Cajon), a commercial-property owner in his civilian life.

Telecommunications competitors believe that the Assembly
version would make better law, but they did not underestimate Peace's chances.
Mangers said the state senator is very smart about the legislative process.

"But ultimately, I think that his colleagues will
think [that the bill] is bad policy," Mangers added.

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