Trading broadband subsidies for access to California public housing residents

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A couple of apartments are enough to make cable companies lose their taste for monopoly.

Public housing agencies stand between residents and cable television companies. Like any other landlord in California, a public housing agency has considerable (but not total) control over who can install wiring in a building or complex, and consequently who can sell television, telephone and Internet service to residents.

That control is about to be trimmed back a notch.

Assembly bill 1299 proposes to use $20 million from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to improve broadband infrastructure in public housing, plus another $5 million to encourage residents to buy service, assuming lawmakers also add more money to the account. To have a hope of ever applying for that money, a public housing operator has to…

verify to the [California Public Utilities Commission] that the publicly supported housing community has not denied a right of access to any broadband provider that is willing to connect a broadband network to the facility for which the grant or loan is sought.

Not withstanding Google’s travails in Kansas City, it’s most commonly cable companies who have trouble getting into apartment complexes, and it was a cable lobbyist who originally pushed legislators to adopt the language.

Which might be good news for the future of CASF. It was a lobbyist for California’s cable industry, along with a hired gun for Comcast, who shot down senate bill 740, which would top up the fund and allow independent ISPs and cities to apply for grants and loans.

Assuming AB 1299 isn’t changed again (a big assumption), the cable industry’s right of access language won’t have any teeth unless SB 740 passes too. Nor will any of the $5 million in marketing money flow its way.

Maybe the next time SB 740’s author, senator Alex Padilla (D – Los Angeles), offers cable lobbyists a compromise, they won’t ignore him. Like the last time.

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.