Since the 1970s, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has been setting minimum service quality standards for certain public utility telephone corporations. However, the CPUC recently adopted an Order Instituting Rulemaking (OIR) to consider expanding its service quality rules to apply to:
- (1) Interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers—both facilities-based and over-the-top service;
- (2) Wireless providers—both facilities-based and resellers; and
- (3) Broadband service providers (in a later phase of the proceeding).
The rulemaking, which has just begun, could have major implications for a wide range of communications and information service providers in California.
Through its General Order (GO) 133-D, the CPUC enforces an extensive set of rules that have primarily been applied to traditional plain old telephone service (POTS) providers for the last 50-plus years. GO 133-D sets minimum standards for the following metrics:
- Installation intervals measuring the amount of time between a customer requesting basic telephone service and that service being established. Five business days is the standard.
- Installation commitments determining whether basic telephone service is established for residential and small business customers. Meeting 95 percent of commitments is the standard.
- Customer trouble reports detailing dissatisfaction with service and out-of-service issues.
- Out-of-service repair intervals measuring the average time from a carrier's receipt of an out-of-service trouble report to when service is restored for residential and small business customers. Resolving 90 percent of all out-of-service trouble reports is the standard.
- Answer times measuring the amount of time for the operator to answer calls for trouble reports, general inquires, and billing specific inquiries. The standard level of service is 80 percent of calls answered within 60 seconds.
Additionally, providers must file quarterly reports on these metrics, as well as notices of major service interruptions. When service providers fail to comply with these requirements, GO 133-D's enforcement mechanism empowers CPUC Communications Division staff to fine violators thousands of dollars per day, or accept a corrective action proposal wherein the violator agrees to invest no less than twice the amount of the fine to improve service quality in a measurable way in lieu of paying a fine.
In November 2021, the California Public Advocates Office (Cal Advocates) filed Petition 21-10-003 asking the CPUC to open a rulemaking to establish minimum service quality standards for essential communications services, i.e., broadband, wireless, and VoIP, in addition to POTS.
On March 23, 2022, the CPUC opened the rulemaking, R.22-03-016, to consider amendments to GO 133-D relevant to the current regulatory environment and market, including extending minimum service quality requirements to VoIP, wireless, and broadband services.
Although the OIR declines to adopt any of the specific proposals in Cal Advocates' Petition, it finds that Californians increasingly rely on technologies other than traditionally regulated POTS, justifying new rules protecting consumers using these other technologies. It further justifies opening the OIR based on a recent AT&T/Frontier "Network Exam" study in R.11-12-001 that revealed, among other things, inadequate network performance and inequitable network investments from 2018-2019.
As a result, the service quality standards developed in the rulemaking could address a wide range of requirements, including but not limited to the current GO 133-D rules explained above. Additionally, the CPUC will consider amendments to GO 133-D's enforcement mechanism, particularly in light of recent CPUC findings that the existing penalty framework has been ineffective in remedying service quality deficiencies.
However, the full universe of what might be addressed in this rulemaking is under development. The CPUC will issue a subsequent ruling detailing a schedule and likely longer, more specific list of issues that will be covered in the proceeding.
For now, the OIR contemplates two phases over which to consider the following issues:
- Phase 1 will consider what new or existing service quality metrics and reporting should be extended to wireless and interconnected VoIP services, and possible changes to GO 133-D's enforcement framework.
- Phase 2 will consider whether the CPUC should adopt service quality standards, reporting requirements, and an enforcement framework for "broadband services."
The OIR also establishes the following procedural deadlines:
- Parties have until April 12, 2022, to request to be on the service list for this proceeding.
- Opening comments on the OIR are due May 9, 2022.
- Reply comments on the OIR are due May 23, 2022.
Please contact DWT if you have questions about the OIR or if you would like to discuss potentially participating in the rulemaking proceeding.