The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently launched a proceeding to establish the rules that holders of state video franchises (such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T and others) must follow to obtain renewal of their franchises issued pursuant to the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 (DIVCA). We anticipate that industry will advocate for a streamlined and cursory renewal process. Local governments have the opportunity to argue that the CPUC, as franchising authority, must take comments from the cities and the public, and develop renewal procedures that ensure local needs and interests are satisfied. In addition, localities may be able to argue that the CPUC should consider complaints regarding operator performance. This may be the only opportunity local governments have to push for a framework that provides for effective enforcement of DIVCA.
DIVCA, Pub. Util. Code §§5800 et seq., shifted cable franchising from the local to the state level. When it issued its first order implementing DIVCA, the CPUC acknowledged that DIVCA could be read to contemplate renewal proceedings which are largely automatic. The CPUC recognized but did not resolve the potential conflict with the renewal provisions of the federal Cable Act, which contemplate that renewal franchises will satisfy future, local, cable-related needs and interests.
To address this tension, in this rulemaking the CPUC seeks comment on:
the appropriate procedures for the renewal process
the timing of renewal applications
whether the Legislature has identified all the video-related obligations that video service providers must fulfill in relationship to communities encompassed within a video service provider’s franchise both with respect to an initial franchise and one subject to renewal
whether the Legislature intended to limit the role of individual communities in the renewal process
whether there are irreconcilable differences between DIVCA and federal law and what alternatives would ensure consistency with federal law
Following a request made by Best Best & Krieger on behalf of the League of California Cities, the CPUC has granted an extension on opening and reply comments. Opening comments now must be filed by July 22 and reply comments by August 12. Once comments are received, the CPUC may hold a prehearing conference before issuing a Scoping Memorandum outlining the schedule and issues to be considered in the proceeding.