SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. District Court of the Northern
District of California ordered last fall that the California Public Utilities Commission
(CPUC) could hand over requested confidential subscriber information to The
Utility Reform Network (TURN) so it can research state market
competitiveness, despite the resistance from communication companies like
AT&T Mobility and other wireless carriers.
Judge Vince Chhabria ruled that federal law does
not restrict CPUC from turning over the information requested by TURN, according to a Nov. 10 National Law Review article.
“Judge Chhabria also rejected a motion for summary
judgment filed by CPUC and TURN because it has not yet been demonstrated that
the proposed protective order would, in fact, adequately protect the companies
from competitive harm,” the National Law Review article said. “Because
such protection is a necessary predicate to avoiding a conflict with FCC
regulations, Judge Chhabria reasoned, the adequacy of the protective order must
be determined before CPUC can force companies to turn over such sensitive data.”
Chhabria explained in a Nov. 3 court document that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations do
not prevent CPUC from requesting companies to disclose subscriber data to TURN.
The National Law Review article said the case became contentious when the wireless companies requested a
permanent injunction in federal district court because the CPUC’s request for
information conflicted with FCC regulations. Chhabria disagreed with the
“Judge Chhabria distinguished the CPUC request in two ways: first, Judge
Chhabria observed, when the FCC prohibits ‘disclosure,’ the FCC generally is
referring to disclosure to the public, rather than disclosure to a third party
that has intervened in a lawful regulatory investigation,” the National Law Review article said. “Second, he reasoned, the regulation the companies relied
on governs the disclosure of information submitted through Form 477, and there
is no indication that the regulation also was meant to govern the ways in which
states gather similar information through their own investigations.”
In unravelling FCC regulations, Chhabria also explained
that the FCC had certain rules in place to protect companies from harm if their
competitors somehow were able to access this sensitive, confidential information.
Because of this, Chhabria wanted to make sure CPUC and TURN were taking
proper precautions to not put wireless competitors at an unfair advantage.
“CPUC and TURN have yet to demonstrate that
subscriber information will be adequately protected by the proposed protective
order,” the National Law Review article said. “Thus, Judge Chhabria concluded,
CPUC and TURN first must demonstrate the adequacy of the protective order under
which such information will be shared before companies are required to comply
with the disclosure request.”