CSAC Bulletin Article

Senators Hold Telecomms Oversight Hearing and Announce New Bills to Tackle PSPS Communications Outages

January 9, 2020

On Wednesday January 8th, the State Senate Utilities, Energy, and Communications Committee held an oversight hearing to examine causes and impacts of Public Safety Power Shutdowns (PSPS) on telecommunications networks. In addition to leaving thousands of customers without power, the PSPS events also led to the shutdowns of critical communications infrastructure which impacted first responders and hampered local county efforts to provide alert and warnings. The hearing included panels of California Public Utilities Commissions (CPUC) regulators, telecommunications industry representatives, local and state emergency manages, and consumers. Key items discussed included battery backup of key communications infrastructure, improved resiliency, and improved communications and transparency during PSPS events.

Representatives from the CPUC, the agency with regulatory authority over the telecommunications industry, testified at the hearing about ongoing efforts at the CPUC to improve utility oversight. CPUC regulators described their support for both battery backup requirements and improved data collection. The regulators also shared that the CPUC would conduct new rulemakings in the near future to address these issues. When asked by Legislators about the CPUC’s future efforts, CPUC President Marybel Bajter stated “Outages are unacceptable. Collectively we are responsible for the public safety.”

In addition to testimony from the CPUC, telecommunications industry representatives, and consumers, the committee also heard from local and state emergency managers about the impact that shutdowns had on emergency response and suggestions for future improvements. Marin County Emergency Manager, Chris Reilly testified about the impact the shut offs had in his community. .

California Office of Emergency Services Director, Mark Ghilarducci also testified stating “Many Californians were unable to communicate, get information about evacuation routes or other alerts, or receive updates on (power shutoffs) or fire conditions,” He continued. “And 9-11 centers and hospital centers weren’t able to process critical data or leverage important records.” Director Ghilarducci urged the need for improved data sharing and hardening of critical infrastructure.

Earlier in the day, in addition to participation in the hearing, State Senators Mike McGuire, Steve Glazer, and Henry Stern announced a trio of bills to mitigate communications failure during emergencies. These include:

  • Senate Bill 801 (Glazer): This bill would require electrical companies to help customers on a medical baseline allowance get backup power sources.
  • Senate Bill 802 (Glazer): This bill would help hospitals keep their lights on by allowing them to use diesel generators as backup power sources.
  • Senate Bill 431 (McGuire): This bill would require telecommunications companies to have at least three days of backup power during outages in fire-prone areas.

CSAC will continue to engage in these discussions and other bills related to PSPS and wildfire as they move through the legislative process.

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