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Calif. ISPs Balk SBC's Jurisdiction Claims

The war of words between a coalition of Internet service providers and Pacific Bell and its parent company SBC Communications is turning into a question of who is in charge of DSL lines in California.

The California ISP Association (CISPA) filed a response earlier this week with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) disputing SBC Communications' October 23 motion that the CPUC has no jurisdiction over SBC's DSL business activities in California.

The basis for the claim is the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, subsequent federal court decisions and California state law that CISPA says support the authority of the California PUC to regulate telecommunications and Internet services provided to California consumers and businesses.

Officially, the Federal Communications Commission has jurisdiction over the state's DSL market. But, CISPA sees it otherwise.

"By applying to the CPUC and receiving a certificate of public convenience and necessity to provide DSL services in California, SBC has previously acknowledged the jurisdiction of the CPUC," says Paul Neibergs of MBV Law LLP, a San Francisco-based law firm representing CISPA.

The two sides have been negotiating a settlement since July 26, 200. That's when CISPA, which represents 130 Internet service providers in California, filed a complaint alleging that SBC is participating in unfair business practices in the high-speed Internet access market. CISPA says the CPUC's regulatory status for carriers in the state is one of the last stopgap measures the smaller providers may have that would prevent a monopoly by SBC in California's DSL market.

"By its own admission, SBC controls at least 90 percent of the DSL business in California," says CISPA executive director Mike Jackman. "Now SBC wants to remove one of the last regulatory protections for California residential and business customers."

The two sides had been negotiating with the California PUC as a mediator. But talks turned sour last month, when CISPA walked away from the bargaining table at the last minute after SBC filed with the FCC to re-affirm the company's status as a non-dominant carrier.

"As CISPA's complaints and demands change from week-to-week, SBC's position remains constant," SBC released in a statement Friday. "SBC is committed to providing wholesale DSL transport service on an equal basis to all ISPs, and believes customer choice is important in the broadband market. Regrettably, CISPA's recent actions show it would rather walk away from the negotiating table than work to resolve these issues, even as substantive progress is being made."

SBC has also asked the California PUC to allow it to enter the state's $15 billion long distance market. To get the CPUC's approval, SBC has to prove that SBCs control over Californias telephone facilities properly supports competition among Internet service providers, including independent ISPs.

CISPA claims that SBC has failed to provide fair and non-discriminatory access to the phone networks.