Blame game won't stop California broadband subsidy giveaway

19 December 2017 by Steve Blum
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The California legislature intended to protect AT&T’s and Frontier Communications’ rural broadband monopolies and subsidise their low speed service, when it passed assembly bill 1665 earlier this year. In effect, that’s what the California Public Utilities Commission said last week as it approved a resolution that allows the two biggest incumbents to claim exclusive rights to broadband infrastructure subsidies in the rural communities they serve (or not).

Telephone and cable industry lobbyists re-rigged the California Advanced Services Fund program and found enough friends in the legislature – democrat and republican – to approve it by more than a two-thirds majority. They tagged it urgent, which means the CPUC has to implement it now. So it is.

As it’s writing new rules to implement AB 1665, the CPUC is paying attention to the plain text of the bill, and not to its smoke screen of straight-faced deception and phony fact sheets. As it should.

The California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), which sponsored AB 1665 and allowed it to be turned into a cable and telco wish list filed an objection to the CPUC’s resolution, saying that “it could be interpreted to be rolling protectionism for large incumbents that locks in old technology and blocks the opportunity for fair participation by smaller companies”. Yes. Because it is and it does.

CETF claims that lawmakers didn’t intend to block small companies and that it asked its legislative champions to put that in a letter. But darn it, the bill’s authors “have not yet provided a written position”.

Guess what. It doesn’t matter how many letters politicians write or what promises CETF made while the bill was moving through the legislature. The CPUC’s reply last week was blunt and proper: “Staff implements AB 1665 as written”.

AB 1665 is a bad bill. The people behind it knew what it said and knew it would favor monopoly providers over rural Californians. Deflecting blame onto legislative pen pals or the CPUC serves no legitimate purpose. The first step toward fixing the damage it does is to acknowledge it as the failure it is.