California bill magically improves broadband service to 280,000 homes

If too many Californians have substandard broadband, the best way to fix it is to lower the standards. That’s the perverse logic that’s captured the thinking, such as it is, of a senate committee that’s considering a rewrite of California’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program. It would let AT&T and Frontier Communications fence off poorly served rural communities from competition, and get taxpayer money as a reward.

As the senate energy, utilities and communications (EU&C) committee’s analysis of assembly bill 1665 explains…

This bill would alter the current CASF goal by reducing the eligibility speed to 6 Mbps/1 Mbps from the current 6 Mbps/1.5Mbps and exclude CAF II areas, as well as, areas where incumbent providers claim they plan to deploy service. Based on the analysis by the CPUC, the eligible households for this program may be reduced from just over 300,000 to about 20,000.

A quick look at the numbers confirms that the CPUC’s analysis is in the right ballpark. Both Frontier and AT&T maintain antiquated DSL systems that serve millions of Californians who live in communities that don’t have sufficient revenue potential. Low income and low density communities in other words.

That divide was a concern for one assembly member yesterday. During a hearing on senate bill 649 – another slice of telco heaven that would preempt local ownership of light poles and control of cell site placement – Sabrina Cervantes (D – Riverside) was worried that people living in low income areas wouldn’t see the benefits of the 5G wireless bonanza promised by the bill’s author (and EU&C chair), senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego).

His reply was to promise AB 1665 would fix that problem – a promise that’s blatantly false, as the CPUC’s numbers show. But it was good enough to grease the skids for SB 649, which slid through without a single no vote.

AB 1665, on the other hand, hit headwinds this week. Whether that’s enough to overcome the pressure from AT&T, Frontier, cable lobbyists and their amen corner in the legislature is still an open question. The answer might come next week, when it’s due to be heard in the senate’s EU&C committee.