Telecoms Can’t Keep Data From State Regulators

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Despite claims that disclosing telecom subscriber data could harm competition, a federal judge said Thursday that federal law does not prohibit state regulators from making companies turn over the information for rate reviews.
     Major telephone companies — including Verizon, AT&T and Comcast — sued the California Public Utilities Commission in May, arguing that an order requiring them to release sensitive data for a rate setting hearing violates federal law.
     Telecom firms say only the Federal Communications Commission can obtain such sensitive data under FCC rules, and that the federal agency has strict safeguards in place to protect the information from disclosure.
     The FCC requires telecom providers submit the data through its Form 477, which the FCC will not share with “any state public utility commission unless that commission agrees to abide by strict, FCC-prescribed confidentiality rules, even when those federal rules conflict with state law,” according to the telecom firms’ 20-page request for a restraining order and injunction.
     During a Thursday hearing on the motion for a permanent injunction and dueling motions for summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria seemed unconvinced that FCC rules block state regulators from obtaining the same type of data covered under Form 477.
     “If the FCC wanted to assert authority over every decision every state makes over disclosure of this information, it would have said so,” Chhabria said.
     California Public Utilities Commission attorney Kimberly Lippi told the judge the state utility regulator modeled its protective order on the same FCC guidelines that restrict access to the Form 477 data.
     Representing the telecom firms, Scott Angstreich replied that the state commission has already made data sets available on unsecure computers. He said the data would allow telecom firms to gauge their competitors’ customer locations, pricing and other sensitive information.
     Angstreich described the FCC’s process of only allowing authorized individuals to access encrypted data through a secure network. If individuals access the data remotely, they are required to install software that blocks email and copy-and-paste functions, he said. Individuals may only use the data to take notes, which must also be reviewed to ensure no raw data was copied, he added.
     The telecom firms especially object to an administrative law judge’s determination that the data can be shared with third parties, including the consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, which seeks to “hold utility corporations accountable by demanding fair rates, cleaner energy and strong consumer protections,” according to its website.
     TURN filed a motion for cross-summary judgment as an intervener plaintiff in the case, arguing that it needs the data to determine if “the current level of competition is protecting California consumers from poor service quality, ineffective customer service, and whether the market is providing sufficient economic incentives to ensure that the state’s most vulnerable populations have access to innovative new technologies at affordable prices.”
     Chhabria said he is willing to consider challenges to the adequacy of the state’s protective order at a future stage in the litigation, but he rejected the notion that federal law prohibits a state court or agency from mandating the disclosure of information under a protective order.
     If telecom firms want the FCC to approve all disclosures of the same type of data covered under Form 477, the judge suggested the federal agency should adopt a rule which clearly states that requirement.
     “It sounds like you should go to the FCC and have them create a requirement that no state entity can require disclosure of this data without permission from the FCC,” Chhabria said.

%d bloggers like this: