In 2006, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 120, also known as the “Competitive Emerging Communications Technologies Act of 2006,” which was then promptly signed by Governor Perdue. The bill states that, “The Public Service Commission shall not have any jurisdiction, right, power, authority, or duty to impose any requirement or regulation relating to the setting of rates or terms and conditions for the offering of broadband service, VoIP, or wireless service.”
Because the free market. Or something.
In any event, SB 120 completely precludes the Public Service Commission from any oversight of broadband, VOIP, and wireless.
Or does it?
It is clear that the Commission’s authority was limited by SB 120, but its authority was limited only with respect to “rates or terms and conditions” of the services.
So what does that leave?
Well, for starters, it arguably allows the Commission to grant or deny certificates to provide service.
Once you cross that bridge, presumably the PSC would have the ability to handle complaints and potentially even to issue fines.
Why do we need more government regulation?
Because Comcast. Because Windstream. Because AT&T. Let’s take Comcast for example. Have you seen the Comcast ads for their free wireless hotspots? They are an inducement to sell their home cable and broadband services right now but they are essentially a way to compete with traditional telecom going forward. Comcast saw an opportunity to compete with cellular carriers such as AT&T and Verizon – while the Company does not have an infrastructure of cellular towers, it does have millions of residential customers dispersed across the United States who already pay Comcast to supply Internet access to their homes (“Xfinity Internet Service”). As part of that service, Comcast leases to its customers wireless routers that create home Wi-Fi networks. These households, Comcast realized, could be used as infrastructure for a national Wi-Fi network.
Within the past several years, Comcast began supplying its residential customers with new wireless routers, equipped to broadcast not only its customers’ home Wi-Fi network signal, but also an additional Wi-Fi network signal that was available to the public. Comcast then began selectively activating these routers to broadcast the secondary network – the public “Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot” – in various markets across the country, with the goal of enabling 8 million Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspots by the end of 2014.
Comcast does not, however, obtain the customer’s authorization prior to engaging in this use of the customer’s equipment and Internet service for public, non-household use. Indeed, without obtaining its customers’ authorization for this additional use of their equipment and resources, over which the customer has no control, Comcast has externalized the costs of its national Wi-Fi network onto its customers. The new wireless routers the Company issues consume vastly more electricity than regular routers, and the consumer’s unwittingly supplied public wireless degrades their own wireless bandwidth by giving it away to others.
That’s probably a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but it is difficult to tell since there is so much opacity in what product Comcast actually promises to deliver.
Case in point, my own Comcast experience: We upgraded our package to “Blast” upon the advice of Comcast to fix our internet speed issues months ago. Turns out those speeds could not be fixed because the Comcast equipment (the local tap) needed replacement. Comcast knew that the problem was noise in the line outside of spec and thus could not deliver the speeds requested regardless of package. So inducing us (and our neighbors) to pay for internet speeds that Comcast was not capable of delivering borders on fraudulent.
When I called to try to have that problem fixed, I checked my bill and I am currently renting a modem from Comcast that I purchased two years ago from NewEgg. Yes, you read that correctly, Comcast is charging me to rent a modem to myself. This happens so often that there is a menu choice on Comcast’s website to fix the problem. Careful clicking on things though, if you click on the link “How do I get a replacement modem?” in one of their emails, it automatically orders one for you and charges you $160 for installation and $11/month.
Recently, Comcast has begun turning off our entire neighborhood because of its own equipment’s shortcomings. They provide no notice when doing so.
The above is exactly how you would expect an unregulated monopoly to behave. It’s no surprise cable providers dominate the list of most-disliked companies. Senate Bill 120 seems to give the PSC the power to deal with customer complaints and bring Comcast and its broadcast brethren to heel. Everyone (even Comcast) would benefit, and that would be Comcastic.