The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) removed its support for a State Assembly telephone number conservation act Thursday, May 5th.

Commission staff had recommended in April that commissioners support Assembly Bill 1380, authored by Assemblymember Mike Gordon of the local 53rd District, if the bill were amended.

Assembly Bill 1380, also known as the Area Code Conservation and Consumer Protection Act, is designed to conserve telephone numbers and prevent area code splits or overlays.

Gordon said area code splits and overlays are costly and burdensome for businesses, residents, senior citizens, and children.

Splits require phone number changes and overlays require people to dial 11-digit phone numbers from one area code to another area code.

“We have heard that the telephone carriers lobbied the CPUC commissioners to change their position on the bill,” said Janelle Beland, Gordon’s legislative director.

“The arguments presented in the new CPUC analysis of the bill are strikingly similar to those asserted by the carriers in their opposition to the bill,” Beland said.

Commissioners did not vote to oppose the bill, but will consider the bill again at a meeting Thursday, May 26th.

Assembly Bill 1380 establishes specific guidelines for phone companies to follow when determining a six-month inventory of phone numbers.

The CPUC manages phone number resources in the state.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees the telecommunications industry nationwide.

A coalition of six phone companies called the Joint Carriers petitioned the CPUC in March for a “triggered” overlay in the 310 area code because the companies say the area code is running out of phone numbers.

The Joint Carriers are T-Mobile, Nextel of California, Verizon Wireless, Verizon California, Cingular Wireless and SBC.

The phone companies would prepare their networks and “trigger” an overlay when the companies say phone numbers have run out in the 310 area code.

If the petition is approved by the CPUC, new customers in the 310 area code will be assigned phone numbers with a 424 area code.

Gordon said passage of Assembly Bill 1380 is necessary in light of the recent petition because he said 310 area code phone numbers are not running out and phone companies are mismanaging their number inventories.

Currently, the CPUC relies on inventory reports supplied by the phone companies.

There is no state or federal law that allows the CPUC to independently monitor phone number inventories.

Assembly Bill 1380 would give the state more regulation powers and was approved in April by the State Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.

The State Assembly Appropriations Committee will hear the bill in the upcoming weeks.

CPUC staff recommended commission support for the bill if the following amendment was made:

– “Determine the appropriate growth rate, whereby the maximum growth rate is to be determined by the CPUC, to use to calculate the projected growth in telephone numbers for the next six months.”

The “recommended amendment” was placed in an April commission staff analysis of the bill.

In the last week’s commission staff analysis of the bill, two “suggested amendments” were made:

– “Staff recommends opposing the bill unless the bill is modified in such a way as the calculations would not exclusively rely on historical data as a basis for inventory.”

– “Staff further recommends working with the author to amend the bill to give the commission guidance relative to six-month inventory rules, but ultimately that the commission would approach the FCC for authority to implement such rules.

Beland said the new commission staff amendments appear to be giving the phone companies exactly what they want.

One April letter to the Utilities and Commerce Committee from the law offices of Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, who represents client T-Mobile, stated that:

– “AB 1380 would enact a rigid and unnecessary scheme of state regulation to determine the inventory of phone numbers that are available to carriers in California.”

– “In addition to creating unnecessary regulation, AB 1380 is pre-empted by federal law.”

Another April letter to Gordon and the Utilities and Commerce Committee from the public affairs advocacy firm of Rose & Kindel, which represents client Nextel of California, stated that:

– “AB 1380 would constitute an unauthorized exercise of state power because the CPUC does not have authority to adopt number administration regulations absent express delegated authority from the FCC.”

– “The proposal is in clear conflict with FCC regulations.”

Beland also said that the Assembly Bill 1380 item was on the agenda for the CPUC meeting last week in San Francisco, pulled and rescheduled for May 26th, then placed back on the agenda the night before the meeting.

The CPUC did not notify Gordon’s staff, Beland said.

“We were told that the item was removed from the agenda and would not be heard until the May 26th meeting,” Beland said.

“Our plans to go and testify and give public comment in San Francisco were cancelled,” she said.

Gordon wrote a letter Thursday morning to the CPUC requesting that the Assembly Bill 1380 item be deferred until May 26th, but the commission went forward with its agenda without the presence of Gordon’s staff.