A bill aimed at banning any future regulation of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) by public utilities breezed through the California state Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 30-6, according to the L.A. Times.
The legislation, authored by state Senator Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles), wouldn't change anything in the immediate future if passed – as the state's Public Utilities Commission doesn't currently regulate VoIP services – but it should provide yet another reason for Internet companies to flock to California.
Lawmakers like Padilla believe the hands-off regulatory approach of California is what has, in part, driven tech companies like Apple, Google and others to maintain their headquarters in the Golden State.
"However, recent comments by members of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) indicate that they may consider regulation of services accessible with a broadband connection," Padilla wrote in an op-ed piece for the Mercury News.
"Seeking to expand the CPUC's jurisdiction from traditional telephone service to Internet-based services such as VoIP that integrate voice, video and data services is a step toward regulating the Internet and will create regulatory uncertainty," he added.
The bill is being opposed by consumer interest groups that worry the legislation would eventually drive traditional landline providers to stop serving all areas due to an inability to compete on price. Other lawmakers believe that the legislation is simply unnecessary as the CPUC has yet to make a legitimate push to regulate VoIP.
Padilla stresses that the bill would preserve all existing consumer protections for landline services like 911 and the Carrier of Last Resort Obligation, which requires operators to provide traditional telephony services to remote areas.
"No state has benefited more from the Internet economy than California. As we work to emerge from an era of double-digit unemployment and sluggish economic growth, the technology sector continues to light the way," he continued. "Senate Bill 1161 will send the right signals and help foster continued investment and job creation for decades to come."
If the bill passes, the CPUC could only make regulatory changes if directed by the California Legislature or the Federal Communication Commission. The bill now heads to the state Assembly for approval.