By Andrew D. Kent
SB 28 (Caballero), as amended August 30, 2021, adds section 5895 to the Public Utilities Code, expanding the authority of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to collect data to enforce requirements for cable franchises. Included among those requirements is the setting of customer service requirements for cable providers. Of note, the new law makes various changes to the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 (DIVCA). This includes revising the type of information collected by the CPUC from holders of a state franchise. According to the author, the bill aims to promote broadband access to rural and low-income residents “without new fees or taxes, by ensuring that digital video franchise license holders meet their license obligations in a non-discriminatory manner.”
New section 5895 enables the CPUC to collect enhanced data to better identify communities that lack internet service and close “donut holes” of internet service gaps in response to the rise of web-based streaming video service markets and the growth of wireless personal communications. While state law prohibits video franchises from discriminating against or denying access to service based on income (referred to as redlining), the CPUC with enhanced data collection can better identify instances of redlining and detect related abuses. Prior to the enactment of SB 28, broadband providers self-reported data to the CPUC. It would consider all households served in a census tract if providers served a single house in that tract. Supporters of the bill noted that the current census “tract level data” from cable and telecommunications companies are not accurate and contend that rural and low-income areas have been effectively redlined. They emphasize the discrepancy based on the location where recent impacts of COVID-19 have had on rural and low-income residents. That population found it especially difficult to work from home or to have their children connect to the internet to comply with school obligations. Some of the supporters of the legislation included the California Center for Rural Policy, California Emerging Technology Fund, California Telehealth Network, and League of California Cities. [26:2 CRLR 234]
Although Governor Newsom signed SB 28, in his signing message, he encouraged the legislature to consider further reform. He has concluded that the DIVCA is generally outdated and fails to reflect the market realities of today.
Governor Newsom signed SB 28 on October 8, 2021 (Chapter 673, Statutes of 2021).