The Center for Accessible Technology (C4AT) represents people with disabilities before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), with regard to both telecommunications policy and energy policy.
What is the role of the CPUC?
The CPUC regulates telecommunications services and energy in California. Each of these services is vital to permit people with disabilities to live independently, make use of technology, and participate effectively in activities of daily living. As a result, CPUC decisions have strong and enduring impacts on the disability community. For the many people with disabilities who are low income, the CPUC’s mandate to ensure affordable utility services is also vital.
The CPUC maintains and administers the California LifeLine program, a telephone subsidy that makes basic telecommunications more affordable, which is being expanded to include wireless service. It oversees the DDTP program for people with disabilities who need adaptive equipment for telecommunications. And the CPUC is addressing options for closing the “digital divide.” Studies have shown that certain communities have less access to high-speed Internet service than others, and that people with disabilities are often left out of advanced telecommunications because of inaccessible products and/or services.
The CPUC is addressing major shifts in energy policy, which will result in fundamental changes to the state’s infrastructure, environment, and community structure. Some of these changes will rely on use of wireless technology to implement energy policy. Other issues such as affordability, support for renewables, price structures for energy based on time-of-use and cost of generation, safety improvements, and other broad policy questions, will affect the way customers obtain and pay for energy. Customer education on the changes in the energy environment must reach those whose disabilities prevent them from using standard forms of outreach.
C4AT: Representing the Disability Community This work represents a new area for C4AT: although we have often provided testimony at the CPUC, we have not previously represented disabled consumers in formal proceedings to set Commission policy. However, this greater involvement is a natural outgrowth of our prior CPUC work. By actively intervening in Commission telecommunications proceedings, C4AT will work to ensure that policymakers and service providers take the needs of the disability community into consideration. By participating in energy proceedings, C4AT will work to ensure that people with disabilities can afford energy to run assistive technology and maintain their ability to live independently. And in all proceedings, C4AT will work to ensure that utilities communicate effectively with their disabled customers.
Consumer groups can impact CPUC policy by intervening directly in relevant proceedings. By representing people with disabilities before the CPUC, advocates can ensure that telecommunications services are accessible, wireless access is expanded, utility services are affordable, changes in both arenas are effectively communicated within the disability community, and other interests do not overshadow the needs of vulnerable consumers. C4AT is the leading intervener on behalf of the disability community.