Cable lobby shovels California broadband subsidies to a halt


A good day’s work for California cable lobbyists.

With utter disregard for truth and common sense, lobbyists from Comcast and the California cable industry successfully confused enough assembly members to halt senate bill 740 in its tracks. SB 740 would have added $90 million to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) and allowed independent Internet service providers and public agencies to apply for broadband infrastructure grants under some circumstances.

A long line of supporters – including, remarkably enough, AT&T – endorsed the compromise language negotiated last week. But cable lobbyists wouldn’t budge. Instead of accepting an amendment that was offered on the spot to address their concerns, they persisted with ridiculous claims about the broadband speeds needed by Californians and the number who are without any service at all.

Carolyn McIntyre, a lobbyist for the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, told committee members that the FCC thinks 1.5 Mbps service is good enough for people to do what they need to do and that only about 12,000 California homes are out of the reach of broadband service providers. The California Public Utilities Commission has set 6 Mbps as the download speed standard for the state, and even the FCC has endorsed 4 Mbps as a minimum. As for the number of unserved California households, the 12,000 figure flogged by McIntyre and Comcast hired gun John Moffat originated with industry sources. Research by the California Emerging Technology Fund puts the figure at a more credible 225,000.

The bill’s sponsor, senator Alex Padilla (D- Los Angeles), tried to respond but the damage was done.

The bill needed eight “yes” votes from the assembly utilities and commerce committee this afternoon. It only received five. Three committee members went on the record as opposing it. The remainder sat silent while the roll was called. Despite a last minute push by broadband advocates, myself included, and staffers from Padilla’s office, none of the fence sitters could be swayed before the vote was officially closed.

According to senator Padilla’s staff, the bill is effectively dead. Although in theory it could be reconsidered, no more committee meetings are expected before the assembly’s 12 July deadline for moving legislation along. It’s possible it could be resurrected next year, but for now, when the $158 million currently in the CASF kitty runs out, California broadband infrastructure grants will end.

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.

  • Fred Pilot

    As long as the California PUC remains a captured toady of the preservatives,
    it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway since the PUC would devise eligibility rules sending applicants on a game of map treasure hunt, slicing and dicing in vain to define areas meeting program qualifications. And then dealing with rounds of incumbent protests.

    The subsidy system is built (probably intentionally to assure its failure) on the assumption that there are large, definable areas having little or no broadband when in fact most places have highly granular, balkanized Internet service and connectivity that varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, road to road, premise to premise.

  • Fred, that was in fact the hill that SB 740 died on. The cable lobbyists wanted non-CPCN holders restricted to purely unserved areas, which would make it a practical impossibility for them to get any funding at all. Padilla tried very hard to make it possible for granular, sub-census block analysis to prove eligibility and to accommodate the reality that truly unserved households are almost always mixed in with underserved ones. The telcos were willing to meet Padilla in the middle, the cable companies were not and, unfortunately, carried the day.

    By the way, Padilla acknowledged that what he wanted to do was write what the CPUC is already doing into law. I’m in the middle of several CASF application challenges right now, and it’s Comcast, Verizon, Charter and friends who are making life difficult. Not the CPUC.

    • Fred Pilot

      Well who wrote those rules? The CPUC, that’s who.

      • True. But I’m not saying it’s pretty. It’s difficult. Which beats impossible any day.

        • Fred Pilot

          Making it difficult by erecting too many hoops for applicants to jump through is counter to the public policy goal expressed at California Public Utilities Code Section 281(a): “the deployment of of high-quality advanced communications services to all Californians.”