Assembly Committee Approves Cell Tower Bill to Require Mobile Phone Companies to Provide Backup Power During Outages

Press Release

Photo provided by Senator Steve Glazer Twitter account

SACRAMENTO – With the wildfire season fast approaching, a key Assembly Committee approved a bill on Monday to provide backup power to ensure that people affected by public safety power shutdowns can maintain their ability to use their cell phones.

The bill, SB 431, was approved by the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee on a 9-2-2 vote, and moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The legislation was co-authored by Senators Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Steve Glazer, D-Contra Costa.

The bill would require 72 hours of backup power so that cell towers continue to function during power outages, which are ordered by utilities to minimize fire risks during wildfire events.

“Wildfires and power shutoff events are occurring with greater frequency and they’re putting many more people and communities at high risk,” said Senator Glazer. “This bill will keep the critical wireless communication link working. Many thanks to Senator McGuire for his extraordinary leadership on this matter for many years.”

Co-author Senator McGuire said:  “In an emergency, our phones are our lifeline. It’s how we contact emergency responders, receive emergency alerts and check on our loved ones.  Telecommunications companies assured us that their cell towers would stay up and running and we would be able to use our phones even during Power Shutoff events – last year showed us that this was not true.

“It’s time we step up and mandate backup power for cell phone towers,” Senator McGuire added. This bill isn’t about checking your Facebook status, it’s about life and death. We’re grateful to be working with Senator Glazer on this critical issue.”

SB 431 would provide California with access to communication, and critical information about emergency situations. This bill would require the California Public Utilities Commission to develop and implement performance reliability standards for backup power systems. This would ensure that in the event of a power outage, backup power systems are both reliable and effective.

During the power outages in October of last year, nearly 2 million Northern California residents had their landline, cell phone and cable service interrupted. Over 800 cell towers across California did not have sufficient backup power. More than 454,000 cable and wireline subscribers were out of service due to the power shutoffs.

The Public Utilities Commission on July 16 ordered California’s wireless companies to develop comprehensive resiliency plans to ensure necessary planning and network investments are made to maintain service to customers during a disaster or power outage, including Public Safety Power Shut-offs (PSPS). But, SB 431 goes the further step to require backup power.