Industry-backed legislation to thwart California agencies from further regulation of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service this week handily won approval from the Democratic-led state Senate.
With the support of the Senate's top Democrat, Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), Senate Bill 1161 advanced Wednesday to the state Assembly, by a vote of 30-6.
Introduced by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), S.B. 1161 would preempt the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and other state entities from expanding regulations over VoIP-enabled voice and data transmissions unless expressly authorized by the Federal Communications Commission or the state Legislature.
Critics argue S.B. 1161 would effectively strip the CPUC of its oversight authority--and gut state consumer protections--related to landline or fiber-optic phone services. Among them: that carriers will provide basic phone service, 911 emergency services access, as well as services to the hard-of-hearing and other disabled customers.
Padilla, in an op-ed Wednesday in the San Jose Mercury News, said his bill would simply create regulatory certainty by codify the CPUC's existing practice of not regulating VoIP or other IP-enabled services, thereby encouraging VoIP-related investment in the Golden State.
"Senate Bill 1161 places in state law the very policy that has fostered ever-expanding availability of Internet-based services and broadband infrastructure that is transforming virtually every aspect of our lives," Padilla, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications, wrote in the Silicon Valley newspaper.
"No state has benefited more from the Internet economy than California. As we work to emerge from an era of double-digit unemployment and sluggish economic growth, the technology sector continues to light the way," Padilla continued. "Senate Bill 1161 will send the right signals and help foster continued investment and job creation for decades to come."
S.B. 1161 is sponsored by TechAmerica, TechNet and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and supported by such telecom giants as AT&T (NYSE:T), Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO), Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) and Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ).
Also supporting the measure are the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, both influential business groups.