Admin costs take a bigger bite out of California broadband subsidy fund

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

I thought there was more in there.

The amount of money available to the current round of California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) infrastructure grant applicants is probably something like $135 million, considerably less than the $148 million I’ve been estimating. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has published the proposed budget for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for next fiscal year, which runs from July 2014 to June 2015. It shows a sharp increase in overhead costs for running the program, including an extra $1.5 million for the state’s broadband mapping project.

Earlier this year, I estimated – too optimistically – that there was $158 million or so available for CASF infrastructure grants. Deducting the $10 million that might be given to the Digital 395 project next month leaves $148 million. That’s based on the original $200 million infrastructure grant kitty, less approved grants (about $41 million) plus rescinded grants and project cost savings. And less previously published overhead costs, which totalled about $2.5 million as of last December.

The proposed budget released today pegs total CASF overhead costs at $3.6 million for next fiscal year alone, $2.9 million of which will come out of the infrastructure grant kitty. The staff workload has increased because of the new consortia program and the three dozen or so infrastructure grant applications submitted over the past year, so it’s not unreasonable to assume the new numbers are in line with the latest run rate.

Assuming then, in round numbers, that 1. the overhead costs charged to the infrastructure grant kitty are running at the rate of about $1.6 million a year now, 2. will jump to $2.9 million starting next July and 3. admin costs are likelier to go up than down, the total hit from January 2013 through June 2015 will be in the $5 million to $6 million range. If the CPUC takes the prudent course and earmarks overhead money for a year or two more – there could be dozens of grants to manage in that time – $10 million total isn’t unreasonable and it could go higher depending on how many more years it’ll take to finish those projects off.

Throwing everything on the table – previous expenditures, existing and assumed budgets, the Digital 395 spiff – and discounting my previous optimism, $135 million is my new estimate. That’s against $222 million in published requests.

If senate bill 740 passes, all these assumptions go out the window. As currently written (and assuming assembly bill 1299 also passes), an extra $70 million will be added to the CASF infrastructure grant fund. Key decisions on those bills will be taken in Sacramento this week and next.