Less than a month from now, communications service providers must submit their respective plans to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for community outreach regarding disaster relief measures. This requirement is just one of several stemming from a CPUC decision issued last month that adopted an emergency disaster relief program for customers of communications service providers.

That decision came with the stated purpose of ensuring that communications service provider customers who experience a housing or financial crisis due to a disaster keep vital services and receive support thereafter.

There are four key requirements ordered by the CPUC:

  • Consumer protection measures;
  • Reporting to the CPUC on consumer protection measures;
  • Public outreach regarding consumer protection measures; and
  • Reporting to the CPUC regarding public outreach (by October 14, 2019).

Each of these requirements is discussed in detail below.

Providers Subject to New CPUC Requirements

These new CPUC requirements apply broadly to the following categories of communications service providers serving residential or small business (i.e., 5 or fewer lines) customers:

  • Facilities-based and non-facilities based landline providers;
  • Facilities-based wireless providers; and
  • Non-facilities-based wireless providers.

Triggers for Consumer Protection Measures During Emergency Disasters

The consumer protection measures, discussed below, are triggered in the event the California governor or the President of the United States declares a state of emergency for an area where a disaster has caused:

  • Disruption of the delivery or receipt of utility service; or
  • Degradation of the quality of the utility service to residential and small business owners.

A "disruption" is defined as the (1) loss of dial tone; (2) no connection or otherwise non-functioning service; or (3) circumstances in which the caller cannot make or receive a voice call because the disaster has rendered the service nonfunctional so the caller is unable to make a 911 call.

A "degradation" is defined as situations where service is not completely out, but callers still encounter poor service quality, including, but not limited to, static, failure to connect, a fast busy signal, and/or dropped calls, including 911 calls.

The emergency disaster relief measures must commence upon the issuance of the emergency proclamation, and must last:

  • At 12-months from the issuance of the emergency proclamation; or
  • As "appropriately determined" by the Office of Emergency Services.

Consumer Protection Measures – Wireline

This decision adopts from prior resolutions the customer protections for customers of communications companies (California LifeLine rules will be addressed separately). These measures are:

  1. Waiver of one-time activation fee for establishing remote call forwarding, remote access to call forwarding, call forwarding features and messaging services;
  2. Waiver of the monthly rate for one month for remote call forwarding, remote access to call forwarding, call forwarding, call forwarding features, and messaging services;
  3. Waiver of the service charge for installation of service at the temporary or new permanent location of the customer and again when the customer moves back to the premises;
  4. Waiver of the fee for one jack and associated wiring at the temporary location regardless of whether the customer has an Inside Wire Plan;
  5. Waiver of the fee for up to five free jacks and associated wiring for Inside Wiring Plan for customer upon their return to their permanent location; and
  6. Waiver of the fee for one jack and associated wiring for non-Plan customers upon their return to their permanent location.

Consumer Protection Measures – Wireless 

The consumer protections below apply to facilities based wireless providers. Only items 4-6 apply to non-facilities-based providers (resellers and MVNOs). Items 5-7 are voluntary.

  1. Deploy mobile equipment, including Cells on Wheels and Cells on Light Trucks, to supplement service in areas that need additional capacity to ensure access to 911/E911 service;
  2. Provide device charging stations in areas where impacted wireless customers seek refuge from fires;
  3. Provide Wi-Fi access in areas where impacted wireless customers seek refuge from fires;
  4. Provide mobile phones for customers seeking shelter from a disaster to use temporarily at a county or city designated shelter;
  5. Consider allowing customers to defer or phase payment for coverage charges for data, talk, and text for defined periods of time;
  6. Consider extending payment dates for service for defined periods of time for impacted customers;
  7. Consider providing temporary replacement phones for customers whose phones were lost or damaged as a result of a disaster or evacuation.

Reporting (Advice Letter) on Implementation of Consumer Protection Measures

Communication service providers must file a Tier 1 advice letter within 15-days of a declared state of emergency notifying the Commission of their implementation of the emergency customer protections. In this advice letter, communications service providers must attest that they have complied with all required actions applicable to the type of service they provide.

After the conclusion of the disaster or at the 12-month conclusion of the customer protection period, communications service providers must file another Tier 1 advice letter detailing the protections offered, outreach efforts, and customer impacts.

Public Outreach Regarding Customer Protection Measures 

The Commission also directs communications service providers to, at a minimum, implement "ongoing and continuous outreach" to customers that clearly communicate the emergency customer protections, including: radio, webpages, emails, direct mail, etc. The decision clarifies that lengthy list of outreach methods presented in the decision is an illustrative list and that providers have "flexibility to create a mix of tactics utilized at strategic times to reach customers and aid them in their understanding" of the consumer protection measures.

Outreach must be conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Tagalog, and Vietnamese. Outreach also should be provided in Korean and Russian where these languages are prevalent in the company’s service territory.

Reporting (Advice Letter) on Public Outreach Regarding Consumer Protection Measures

The Decision’s outreach requirements became effective on August 15, so communications service providers should move forward as quickly as possible with their implementation. Providers also must file with the CPUC a Tier 1 Advice Letter setting forth a plan for customer outreach of these emergency customer protections by October 14, 2019.

More to Come in this Rulemaking...

Phase II of this rulemaking will focus on having a resilient and dependable communications grid that aids first responders and communicates with the public in a timely manner. Phase II will focus on enhancing communications from this public safety component, and will consider fines and citations for non-compliance with CPUC orders.