A lifeline for broadband


Telephone and electrical service have long been considered a basic necessity for day to day living. “Lifeline” programs provide discounted service to those who need it and universal service programs subsidize infrastructure in areas where costs are high and population densities low. That same thinking is now being applied to broadband service.

“California was ahead of the curve and actually reformed the program before the FCC did,” said Kim Scardino, who helps to run a broadband lifeline pilot program for the Federal Communications Commission. She was speaking to a joint meeting of representatives from the CPUC’s regional consortia and broadband adoption projects funded by the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF).

One of her pilot projects provides low cost wireless broadband service via smart phones and hotspots in the Fresno and Los Angeles areas. Along with thirteen other projects elsewhere around the U.S., it’s due to launch in May and will run for a year. The FCC is trying to figure out the relationship between the cost of service and the rate of broadband adoption in lower income homes and disadvantaged communities.

Lifeline and universal service programs are generally funded by surcharges on telephone bills. The question for California policy makers is, given that the money is being spent to expand broadband access, should those surcharges also be extended to broadband subscriptions? At some point, probably sooner rather than later, the California legislature and the CPUC will have to find an answer. But it’s only part of the problem.

“It’s not just about price, it’s also about the training and understanding the why, the value proposition,” said CPUC commissioner Catherine Sandoval, summing up the challenge ahead for everyone.

About Steve Blum

Steve Blum is president of Tellus Venture Associates, a management, planning and business development consultancy for municipal and community broadband initiatives. He is a 30-year industry veteran and an expert in developing new broadband infrastructure and services, including wireless, fiber optic and satellite systems. His career includes playing key roles in the launch and growth of DirecTv in the U.S., as well as other satellite broadcasting platforms around the world. For the past ten years, he has helped build municipal wireless and fiber optic broadband systems. His client list includes many California cities, such as San Leandro, Palo Alto, Oakland, Los Angeles, Lompoc and Folsom. He’s a member of the executive team for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and has worked with other regional consortia in California. Steve is the author of seven books on the Internet and satellite broadcasting and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and industry events. He holds an A.B. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in East Asia Studies from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. He is a triathlete and multiple Ironman finisher, and is currently ranked in the top 100 of the Challenge Triathlon world rankings, out of more than 30,000 athletes.