$130 million available for broadband infrastructure grants in California

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

We found the money.

The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) will be topped up to the $315 million limit set by law by mid–2016, thanks to a hike in a surcharge added to phone bills that was approved last week by the California Public Utilities Commission. But much of it is already spent or earmarked, so the amount available for broadband infrastructure construction grants is likely to be $130 million, plus or minus a few million, the next time the CPUC accepts applications.

Boiling it down, $10 million goes to a loan fund, $25 million to public housing facilities and marketing programs and $10 million to regional consortia, leaving $270 million for grants. Of that, about $52 million is for projects approved under older rules, including a $10 to $11 million spiff for the Digital 395 project approved last year.

So far, $30 million has been given to 11 projects in the current round of applications, which were submitted in February 2013, and the commission is scheduled to vote on 4 more totalling $12 million. Based on administrative costs approved to date and projecting forward a few years, the overhead hit will be north of $10 million. Call it $16 million.

Subtracting it all out leaves $150 million. If you assume the $120 million Golden Bear proposal is dead (as I do), 7 projects totalling $39 million are still on the table. But those attracted multiple challenges or have other problems, so there’s some uncertainty. I don’t know what the final figure will be, but if you call it half – purely for the sake of discussion – you end up with something like $130 million. Or somewhere in the $110 to $150 million range, if you prefer.

The CPUC’s goal is to approve spending all the grant money by the end of 2015, to hit a target set by lawmakers. But first the commission has to rewrite CASF rules yet again, also because of changes made last year by the legislature. That’s scheduled to be done in July, which will leave a year and a half for applicants to develop projects and submit applications, and for the commission to approve or reject them.