By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"If Davis has made one thing clear," one Sacramento insider commented this week, "it’s that he doesn’t want to commit public funds for the long term, that he’s convinced the current prosperity won’t last." But if the state can’t afford to invest in better schools and roads and housing now — with unemployment at its lowest point in a decade and public coffers overflowing — when can it make the necessary investments? The question Davis should ponder during this High Holy Day season is Hillel’s Third: If not now, when?
And Davis would happily ponder it, I’m sure, if the Hillel lobby would just write him a six-figure check.
One of the signal regulatory victories of the year came in the area-code overlay battle, which was waged chiefly and brilliantly by West L.A. Assemblyman Wally Knox and L.A. Times columnist Robert Scheer. The area-code cancer began creeping over L.A. during the past several years, as every area code was split and split again. Then, this year, residents in the Westside’s 310 area were told that new numbers in their zone would be given a new area code and that they had to dial 11 digits even for local calls.
But the phone companies didn’t understand the Westside — home to more righteous indignation and aggregate chutzpah than any five other neighborhoods combined. Moreover, Knox had ferreted out the phone companies’ dirty little secret: They were allotted new numbers in blocks of 10,000, and they were quite content not to assign them, but simply to sit on them so that other companies couldn’t have access to them. With so many companies in the field, new numbers quickly "ran out" and new area codes were created. In short, the area-code crisis is another unintended consequence of deregulation — making markets more efficient while driving consumers crazy.
The rule of 10,000 was set by the Federal Communications Commission in 1947, when just about the only petitioner for numbers was Old Ma Bell. Like any prudent mother, Ma Bell made sure that all her numbers were handed out, then handed out some more. Today, however, there are a couple of hundred phone companies careening across California, but they still get their numbers in 10-K blocks, even if they assign just a fraction of them. "No rational businessperson would have an inventory of a million used widgets," says Knox. "But if you get those widgets for free, and if you can’t sell them to anybody else, and if your competitor wants them, then sure — you sit on them."
Knox’s bill forces companies to demonstrate to the state Public Utilities Commission the need for a new area code, and orders companies to use up one 10,000-number block before moving on to the next. But confronted with a lobbying blitz from the phone companies, Knox could only get enough votes for passage by excising the section that mandated a stop to the overlay and the 11-digit dialing in the 310 area. Instead, it’s up to the PUC, which may vote on this issue as early as this Thursday, to save the Westside from the consumer hell of the maximally efficient market.