Big telecom money sets up clean sweep of broadband bills in Sacramento

15 September 2017 by Steve Blum
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One key broadband bill is on its way to governor Brown’s desk, another is likely to follow and a third is heading for oblivion. That result will be a trifecta for telephone and cable companies who came to the table with deep pockets full of campaign cash and even longer arms to hand it out.

Senate bill 649 won narrow, bipartisan approval in the senate yesterday. The tally was 22 yes votes – 21 were needed – with 10 noes and 8 abstentions. Instead of trying for a rational makeover of the way local governments make decisions on where wireless facilities can be installed, lawmakers opted for a multi-million dollar gift to major campaign contributors telephone and cable companies. SB 649 streamlines some permit processes – too much or too little is open to debate – but also requires local governments to rent space on street lights, traffic signals and other “vertical” infrastructure they own at a giveaway price that is, in many cases, hundreds, even thousands, of dollars below market value. The assembly passed it with five votes to spare on Wednesday and now the senate has concurred.

After skating through the senate on Wednesday, assembly bill 1665 is queued up for a final vote in the assembly today. It reinstates a tax on phone bills, puts $300 million for infrastructure subsidies into the California Advanced Services Fund and then games the rules to make it virtually impossible for independent projects to tap into it. On the other hand incumbents, like AT&T and Frontier, get privileged access to the money. To make the gift even sweeter, California’s minimum broadband standard is lowered to 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, relieving AT&T and Frontier of the inconvenience of upgrading 1990s vintage DSL systems.

Hope is fading fast for assembly bill 375. It would write Internet privacy rules into California law. Democrats in Washington, D.C. slammed congressional republicans and the Trump administration for scrapping the federal privacy regulations that AB 375 mirrors. Which makes it difficult for the democratic supermajority in the California legislature to publicly oppose the bill. But it’s even harder for them to approve it, since doing so would run counter to the wheelbarrow loads of money advice they get from big telephone and cable companies. AB 375 is stuck in the clubbable senate rules committee where it can die a lonely death.

Lawmakers have until 11:59 p.m. tonight to act. After that, Brown has 30 days to either veto or approve any of the bills that reach his desk