3 p.m., April 19
Qualcomm-backed bill would be "cataclysmic" for cost and quality of California Internet service, critics claim
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.