AB 2395: A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

AB 2395: A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

by Robert Longer, Legislative-Political Director, CWA Local 9421

Today 50+ members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), District 9, packed the California Assembly Committee on Appropriations hearing room, complete with bright orange t-shirts and CWA logos. What was normally a boring committee meeting turned into quite a show of unity, and certainly caught the attention of lawmakers. Why such a big turnout? CWA members were present to oppose Assembly Bill 2395.

AT&T would like you to believe that whatever they say is the truth. Like when they tell you that your phone bill won’t increase, or that unicorns exist. Such is the case with AB 2395, which is carried by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-San Jose) and supported by AT&T. The bill’s title “Telecommunications: Replacement of Public Switched Telephone Network” sounds benign enough, but when you get into the meat of it, you suddenly become aware of a big threat to California consumers, rural communities, public safety, competitive choice and good, union jobs.

So just what does AB 2395 do? The bill would allow AT&T and other telecom providers to stop serving rural and semi-rural areas of our state by simply certifying to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that there was one alternative voice service available. But here’s the kicker: if there is no alternative available, AT&T and others can still abandon an area after one year, with only 90 days advance notice to consumers, and no public participation in withdrawal requests. Just like that, hundreds of thousands of Californians would be left without reliable service.

CWA District 9 and a coalition of allies from across the State have been fighting this bill since its introduction. CWA represents 17,000 members that work at AT&T in California, and these good, union jobs help to maintain and service the overall network infrastructure, including land lines, cell phones, internet, VoIP, 911, and other advanced services. If AB 2395 were to become a reality, AT&T and other providers would both eliminate service and downsize their workforce in California, thereby leading to job loss (CWA members and others) and economic stagnation (businesses will not locate in communities without high-speed wired broadband).

If that weren’t bad enough, AB 2395 would also leave California consumers without essential public safety provisions (think: 911). Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) services do not provide line power during an electrical outage, unlike legacy (POTS) services. If there is a real emergency and you need to call 911, you’re out of luck with the “new” VoIP technology, but the “old” phone line will still work.

What’s more, AB 2395 could also leave many consumers and communities with no internet access, which is the essential communications service today. Alternatively, the bill could leave many consumers and communities with only wireless internet access, which is expensive and often unreliable. On top of that, the bill could also leave many with only one choice for communications. Without competitive choice, consumers could see rates go up, and service and innovation go down.

Bottom line: AB 2395 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that is bad for California consumers, rural communities, public safety, competitive choice and good, union jobs. If it sounds too good to be true, it often is. Don’t believe what AT&T’s trying to sell you.

The good news is that the outcome of the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday was to place AB2395 into the “Suspense File”, which essentially pauses the bill, for now. If we can keep it in suspense, we will be able to kill the bill for good. Until it is dead, CWA will keep fighting on behalf of California consumers, rural communities and union workers.