California state lawmakers approve ban on VoIP regulation

Industry-backed legislation may help to prevent agencies from California to further regulation of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service handily won approval this week from the Democratic-led state Senate.

In support of top Senate Democrat, pro tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), Senate Bill 1161 advanced Wednesday in the state Assembly, by a vote of 30-6.

Introduced by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), S.B. 1161 will preempt the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and other state entities from expanding the regulations to VoIP-enabled voice and data transmissions unless expressly authorized by the Federal Communications Commission or the state legislature.

Critics argue S.B. 1161 effectively removed the CPUC of its power management – and burn state consumer protection – related to landline telephone service or fiber-optic. Among them: that the carrier will provide basic telephone service, 911 emergency service access, as well as services to hard-of-hearing and other disabled customers.

Padilla said his bill would simply create regulatory certainty by codifying the existing practice of the CPUC of not regulating VoIP or other IP-enabled services, thereby encouraging VoIP-related investments in the Golden State.

According to Padilla, since the birth of the Internet, the federal government has asserted and maintained overall responsibility of a bipartisan policy of limited regulations to foster a free and open Internet everywhere. In furthering this policy, the Federal Communications Commission, through a series of decisions, may pre-empted states from regulating VoIP and IP-enabled services to promote a competitive market and avoid a 50-state patchwork of conflicting regulations regarding this matter.

He said it is important to maintain uniform national rules governing the Internet and ensure that California was not the first state to regulate the innovative new services, which benefits consumers and the US economy.

However, the recent comments by members of the California Public Utilities Commission indicate that they consider the regulation of the services accessible with a broadband connection. Seeking to increase the CPUC's jurisdiction from traditional telephone service to Internet-based services such as VoIP that integrate voice, video and data services is a step toward regulating the Internet and will create regulatory uncertainty.

"Senate Bill 1161 places in state law the very policy that has fostered ever-expanding availability of Internet-based broadband services and infrastructure changes almost every aspect of our lives," Padilla, chairman of Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications, wrote in a newspaper opinion column.

"No state benefited more from the Internet economy than California. As we work to emerge from a period of double-digit unemployment, life and sluggish economic growth, the technology sector continues to pave the way, "continued Padilla. "Senate Bill 1161 would send the right signals and help foster continued investment and job creation for decades to come."

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