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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC; also often commonly referred to as simply the PUC) is a state Public Utilities Commission which regulates privately-owned utilities in the state of Californiamarker, including electric power, telecommunications, natural gas and water companies. In addition, the CPUC regulates common carriers including household goods movers, passenger transportation companies (like limousine services) and rail crossing safety. The CPUC's headquarters are located in the Civic Center district of San Franciscomarker, and the agency has field offices in Los Angelesmarker and Sacramentomarker.

History

During the 19th century, public concerns over the unbridled power of the Southern Pacific Railroad grew to the point that a 3-member Railroad Commission was established, primarily to approve transportation prices. However, the Southern Pacific quickly dominated this commission to its advantage, and public outrage re-ignited, culminating in the passage of a new constitutional amendment in 1911 creating the second Railroad Commission of the State of California. As experience with public regulation grew, other common utilities were brought under the oversight of the Railroad Commission, and its name was changed in 1946 to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Structure

Five commissioners each serve staggered six-year terms as the governing body of the agency. Commissioners are appointed by the governor and must be confirmed by the California State Senate. The Commission meets publicly twice a month to carry out the business of the agency, which may include the adoption of utility rate changes, rules on safety and service standards, implementation of conservation programs, investigation into unlawful or anticompetitive practices by regulated utilities and intervention into federal proceedings which affect California ratepayers.

As of March 7, 2007, the current commissioners are:

Some regulatory laws are implemented by the California State Legislature through the passage of laws. These laws often reside in the California Public Utilities Code.

Energy and climate change

The Commission regulates investor-owned electric and gas utilities within the state of California, including Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric. Among its stated goals for energy regulation are to establish service standards and safety rules, authorize utility rate changes, oversee markets to inhibit anti-competitive activity, prosecute unlawful utility marketing and billing activities, govern business relationships between utilities and their affiliates, resolve complaints by customers against utilities, implement energy efficiency and conservation programs and programs for the low-income and disabled, oversee the merger and restructure of utility corporations, and enforce the California Environmental Quality Act for utility construction.

California Solar Initiative

The California Solar Initiative is a $2.9 billion incentive program created by the CPUC and the California Energy Commission in 2006. The goal of the initiative is to create 3,000 megawatts of new solar power generation in the state by 2017. The increased solar generation will erase the need for up to six new major power plants in California, according to the CPUC.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards

In January 2007, the CPUC adopted a greenhouse gas emissions standard which requires new long-term commitments for baseload generation to serve California consumers be with power plants that have emissions no greater than a combined cycle gas turbine plant. The CPUC has stated that the emissions standard is a vital step in addressing ongoing concerns with global warming.

Cap and trade

On February 8, 2008, California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) President Michael Peevey issued a proposed decision concerning implementation of California’s greenhouse gas emissions legislation, AB 32. The decision recommends a cap and trade program for the electricity sector in California that would impose regulations on owners and operators of generation in California and out-of-state generators delivering electricity to the California electrical grid.

California Institute for Climate Solutions

On April 10, 2008, the CPUC created the California Institute for Climate Solutions (CICS). The CICS facilitates research, deployment, and commercialization of technological solutions and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the electric and natural gas sectors. This action has been challenged as beyond the CPUC's authority by Senator Don Perata, leader of the California State Senate, and by some parties before the CPUC who may appeal the action.

Transmission safety

The Commission's General Order 95 defines safe practices for utility poles and wiring. It defines safe separation between high voltage conductors, guy wires, cable television, and telephone cable. For example, GO-95 defines how high a telephone cable must pass over a roadway. It restricts attachments to poles to allow adequate, safe climbing space for personnel who work aloft. By ensuring an orderly and reliable system is used, risks to the public and utility employees are reduced. A similar system is specified for underground utilities in the Commission's General Order 128.

Telecommunications

Communications

The California Public Utilities Commission regulates intrastate telecommunications service and terms and conditions (but not entry or rates which are reserved to the Federal Communications Commission) of wireless phone providers. Given the break up of the old AT&T, the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the subsequent growth of competition in the communications industry, the California PUC has reduced rate regulation of most telecommunications providers where there is vigorous competition, while leaving regulation as to basic residential rates and as to small rural telephone companies. The California PUC has stepped up consumer education efforts via statewide consumer bill fairs, developed a consumer-oriented communications website (www.calphoneinfo.com), increased its Consumer Affairs Bureau staff to respond to complaints more quickly, established new Telecom Fraud Unit in its Enforcement Division, and began a program using community based organizations to reach out to limited English consumers, in addition to issuing rules requiring in language assistance if a carrier choses to market in a non English language. The Public Utilities Commission also reviews third-party-verification recordings to monitor for telephone slamming.

The California PUC is also encouraging the deployment of broadband infrastructure within California, following the guidance of the California State Legislature in its Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 and the interest of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in improving California's infrastructure. The CPUC is actively seeking to remove regulatory and other barriers to broadband deployment, citing economic development, and social benefits of such deployment. In 2005, $60 million was donated by SBC and Verizon relating to their respective mergers with AT&T and MCI to establish a non profit organization known as the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF). The CETF's mission is to "provide leadership statewide to minimize the "digital divide" by accelerating the deployment of broadband and other advanced communication services to underserved communities and populations." CETF's priority communities include: Rural and Remote Areas; Urban Disadvantaged Neighborhoods; and Disabled Populations. Critical to the creation of this fund was CPUC Chairman Michael Peevey and Commissioner Susan P. Kennedy. In December 2006, Sunne Wright McPeak (former California Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary) became CETF's President and CEO. As of September 2008, CETF has made $20 million in grants to groups who are, for example, improving access to broadband, refurbishing computers for schools and non profit groups, putting computer centers in affordable housing units, deploying mobile computer RVs to bring broadband to disadvantaged communities, aggregating demand in rural areas to attract broadband providers, creating relevant applications for particular communities, focusing on bringing computers to disadvantaged children for educational purposes, and improving access for persons with disabilities.

In 2006, the California Legislature passed the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 1996. Pursuant to this Act, the California PUC was granted limited authority to regulate video service providers via a statewide franchise scheme. The California PUC is responsible for licensing video service providers, and enforcing certain anti discrimination and build out requirements imposed by the Act. Local franchise authorities will continue to regulate rights of way used by video providers, handle consumer complaints, and requirements as to public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels. AT&T, Verizon, and most major cable companies in California (Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, Charter) have received video franchise licenses to date. AT&T is bringing its UVERSE fiber system services and Verizon is bringing its fiber to the home service FIOS to California homes.

The California Public Utility Commission also played a key role in the Governor's Broadband Task Force. The Task Force was formed in 2006, and included CPUC Commissioner Rachelle Chong, a former FCC Commissioner. the Task Force produced two reports making recommendations to the Governor on what could be done to enhance broadband in California, engaging in a broadband mapping project for California, and producing a broadband speed report. In response to the Task Force mapping project and report, the CPUC launched an innovative California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which is a two year, infrastructure grant program to bring broadband to unserved or underserved areas of California. The fund comes from a .25% telephone surcharge. Broadband providers may apply for 40% infrastructure grants to build broadband to unserved and underserved communities within a three year time frame, and must provide 60% matching funds. As of September 2008, applications that would cover 140,000 households have been filed and are being reviewed by the CPUC.

Call recording

The concept behind General Order 107-B is that telephone calls cannot be recorded in California unless all parties to the call know it is being recorded.

The Order states the specifics of what must be done in order to lawfully record telephone calls. Based on the 1983 version, one way to meet the requirements may be to give a verbal warning. This often occurs by the playing of a recording in an automatic call distribution queue: "Your call may be recorded or monitored for quality assurance purposes."

Another method allowed to warn all callers a call is being recorded is the presence of a recorder warning tone: a 1,440 Hz tone repeating every fifteen seconds. In the 1960s, radio stations with call-in programs used to employ a recorder warning tone.

The Order requires that telephone utilities disconnect telephone service for violations of this Order.

It's unclear if case law, the California Public Utilities Code, or changes to the Order allow other the recording of telephone calls under other circumstances. It appears that many 9-1-1 call centers violate the 1983 version of the order every day.

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