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It's one of the most controversial bills passed this year by the California legislature, Senate Bill 1161, a measure that would prohibit the state's Public Utilities Commission from regulating key aspects of the Internet.

Now it's up to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to decide its fate.

"This innocuous-sounding bill on voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) sailed through the Legislature, propelled by the enormous lobbying clout of AT&T," Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, a non-profit that characterizes itself as a "utility watchdog," wrote last week on the Capitol Weekly blog.

"Now the ball is in the governor’s court.

“After revamping the California Public Utilities Commission that was far too cozy with utility companies under his predecessor, Governor Brown should not deny his Commission tools to regulate with."

In a post last week on Wired.com, Susan Crawford, a visiting Stanton Professor of the First Amendment at Harvard's Kennedy School and a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, maintained that SB 1611 "leaves Californians without a protector to keep watch on the cost, service quality, safety, and availability of access to information, data, and entertainment – everything on which modern life depends.

"Because just a few giant companies control the wires, they’ll be picking the economic and social winners and losers in America. Burning trees, burning up the state’s future – it’s all cataclysmic."

Added Crawford, "the carriers want to be able to charge everyone for everything, without any oversight, and without any obligation to serve everyone; they’d like to have a two-sided market, in which the communications provider not only charges the consumer for network access but also charges service providers for access to the consumer."

Industry consultant Larry Downes, offered a different point of view on the CNET.com news blog, urging Brown to sign the legislation as quickly as possible.

"Applications such as Skype, Google Voice and FaceTime can evolve and spread at lightning speed precisely because they are not subject to the plodding and often pointless rules of state utility regulators.

"In California, it's worth remembering, the PUC took seven years just to approve caller ID."

According to Downes, "PUC Commissioner Mike Florio revealed in an interview with Bloomberg BNA that his primary concern with SB 1161 had less to do with the agency's mission to protect California consumers than with the prospect of losing an on-going turf war between the PUC and the FCC over who gets to regulate the Internet."

Regardless of the merits, one thing is certain: Qualcomm fields a team of formidable lobbyists and the company is a regular contributor to favored legislators, both Democrats and Republicans.

According to the corporation's most recent lobbying disclosure report, dated July 31, Qualcomm made a total of $108,947 in payments to the Sacramento lobbying firm of Edelstein, Gilbert, Robson & Smith LLC during the current legislative session through the end of this June.

And company founder, Irwin Jacobs, the La Jolla billionaire, has also chipped in for the Brown cause, with a $10,000 contribution to the governor's election campaign in August 2010 and $5,000 to Brown's tax hike ballot measure.

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Comments

Jessica Percifield Henry Sept. 6, 2012 @ 3:04 p.m.

I think it could be argued that for some of us, our internet service sucks simply because State blessed monopolies exist and we have very little choice. More choice would equal greater competition, which always results in better service for the consumer and more power over what kind of service we have. That said, I find discussions over WHO should regulate and even IF regulation is necessary to be missing the mark in regards to the internet. Being a free speech and freedom of information radical, I see the downsides to both corporate monopolistic control AND government agency/commission controls or attempts to control content on the internet. I think we're all full aware that government has been known to pick the winners and losers in the market as well (Hello AIG; Goodbye Lehman Brothers). I think the question that really needs to be asked is whether these entities are ABLE to control or "regulate" the internet? Ask 10 software engineers that aren't working for the man, if they think content can be controlled by any one entity whether it be AT&T or the PUC. While crying over who should regulate, some teenager or cubicle dweller will be figuring a way around their 'controls'. The internet's organic structure makes it nearly impossible to control. This is the truth. This is why it is so revolutionary as a socio-economic/political/tech tool for innovation and change. I can get caught up in the WHO should regulate or IF there should be regulation, but the way I see it is the cat is outta the bag and running faster than any governmental or "so-called" non-governmental organization can try to keep up with... How will the world look in 10, heck even 5 years because of the internet and the res publica nature of it, no one knows, but we can see the world changing because of it every day. Sci-fi junkies call what I think is coming as a result, the singularity. Those dedicated to the open-source philosophy vs. the closed-shop IP philosophy of the past can see it coming too. The cloud/internet/world wide web/creative commons is changing everything from how we do business to how and what we buy or even why we buy. It has already set off political revolutions and created a sense of community by pulling down artificial walls/barriers and allowing people to connect globally. If this community can put Bank of America's arrogance in its place as it did this past year over debit card fees, then it would certainly put any other company that acted bigger than its britches in place as well. Just say'n. The internet has also enabled consumer activism like never before and there is a real question as to how effective such controls would be, so my opinion is that attempts to aggressively control content will be bypassed or be met with massive consumer backlash. To quote The Big Lebowski, "I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this agression will not stand, man." Peace out (drops mic).

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