Telco, cable wish list queued up in California legislature

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Two major bills that telephone and cable companies want are set for floor votes in Sacramento, and one they don’t want is in deep freeze, as the legislative session enters its final, hectic two weeks. At the end of last week the senate and assembly appropriations committees okayed assembly bill 1665 and senate bill 649, respectively.

AB 375, on the other hand, remains stuck in the senate rules committee. It’s an attempt to write Internet privacy protections that were scrapped by the federal government into California law. Big Internet service providers, including particularly AT&T and Comcast, oppose it because it would dent their ability to use and resell information from and about customers. Smaller ISPs have come out in favor, as have consumer groups. Given the partisan nature of Internet politics at the federal level, it’s difficult for democrats in California to openly oppose it. But quietly killing it an opaque committee is one way for legislators to maintain campaign cash flows from cable and telephone companies while dodging personal responsibility.

AB 1665 would add $300 million to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for broadband infrastructure grants, and then change the rules of the program so that AT&T and Frontier Communications go to the head of the line when the money is handed out, as well as allowing them the privilege of blocking independent broadband projects that threaten their rural monopolies.

SB 649 would give telecoms companies open access to poles and other property owned by public agencies, such as cities and counties, and set rental rates far below market value. It would allow mobile carriers and other wireless companies to lock up publicly owned assets for bargain basement prices.

Telcos, including mobile carriers, are the primary beneficiaries of AB 1665 and SB 649, but friendly lawmakers have snaked in cable-specific perks into both bills as well.

All three bills have to be approved by both houses, since all have been amended as they’ve moved along. Since it reinstates a tax, AB 1665 needs a two-thirds vote by lawmakers; AB 375 and SB 649 need simple majorities. The deadline for final action is 15 September 2017.