CPUC to Consider Expansion of Service Quality Standards to Internet-Based Telecommunications Providers

March 9, 2022

Public Utility Regulation Law

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a Proposed Decision on March 7 that, if adopted, would expand the service quality standards that currently apply to telephone companies that provide standard telephone service to include companies that use a wireless network or the internet to connect calls.

The CPUC’s authority over service providers, like Skype, that use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or other Internet protocol (IP) was strictly limited in 2012, when the Legislature passed and the Governor signed Senate Bill 1161. SB 1161 enacted Public Utilities Code section 710, which prohibited the CPUC from exercising regulatory jurisdiction over VoIP- or IP-enabled services beyond certain specified functions. However, section 710 expired on January 1, 2020.

The CPUC is now considering expanding the service quality standards that currently apply to more conventional telephone companies to also apply to wireless carriers and VoIP and IP service providers. These service quality standards, set forth in the CPUC’s General Order 133-D, include standards regarding the time it takes to install basic telephone service, the provider’s ability to meet its installation commitments, the number of trouble reports the provider receives, the length of time a customer must wait for service to be repaired, and the time it takes for a customer’s call to the provider’s business office to be answered. General Order 133-D also includes reporting requirements and lays out a schedule of fines for failure to meet service standards.

Investigations by the CPUC’s Communications Division concluded that service quality of the companies subject to General Order 133-D had declined, that existing fines were insufficient, and that investment had been steered away from the facilities required to provide reliable standard telephone service. The investigations also found that telephone companies had made investments in broadband services that disproportionately serve higher-income communities. Because an increasing proportion of Californians depend on VoIP, wireless, or broadband technologies for voice communication, the proposal is for the CPUC to consider whether to enforce the service quality standards on the providers that use those technologies.

The proposed decision, if adopted by the CPUC, would open a proceeding to consider amending General Order 133-D to apply service quality standards to telecommunication service that use wireless networks or broadband. The CPUC is scheduled to vote on the proposed decision on March 17. If adopted, parties would have an opportunity to comment on the scope of the issues to be considered in the new proceeding.