AT&T tries $100 million grab from California taxpayers

21 March 2016 by Steve Blum
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AT&T wants to change California law so that it can take $100 million from taxpayers, for broadband service that’s considered unacceptable under state standards. Assembly bill 2130 was rewritten by AT&T lobbyists and re-introduced last week. It would 1. freeze the current California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) broadband infrastructure subsidy program, 2. authorise the collection of $100 million more from taxpayers, 3. distribute it according to byzantine rules that all but guarantee that the money would go to AT&T to spend as it pleases, while 4. tightening its monopoly stranglehold on rural residents.

All AT&T would have to do in return is make a dubious advertising claim of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, as it does now with its mobile broadband service. The current minimum set by the California Public Utilities Commission is 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up, so any place where the best upload speed available is 1 Mbps would be deemed underserved and eligible for CASF subsidies. That’s, um, inconvenient for AT&T, because it’s similarly taking billions in federal subsidies to provide what will principally be wireless service at that lower standard.

Besides lining AT&T’s pockets with California taxpayer dollars, AB 2130 would also derail a competing proposal, AB 1758. That bill would add even more taxpayer money to CASF, but raise the minimum broadband standard to the federal level of 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up and continue to allow community-driven broadband infrastructure upgrades by incumbents as well as competing, independent service providers. Who all have to contribute significant capital of their own and strictly account for it.

If AB 2130 passes, AT&T gets rid of pesky competition and annoying accountability, and walks away with most, if not all, of a $100 million gift from taxpayers. Next stop for the bill will be the assembly utilities and commerce committee.

I’ve advocated for and helped to draft AB 1758 and its predecessors. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.