Big buck proposal for California broadband aims for wide appeal

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

More money to build broadband infrastructure in California is back on the table, along with even more money for other broadband-related initiatives. Assembly bill 1758 was introduced at the state capitol by assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz) this week. It’s a new and improved and greatly enlarged version of last year’s effort to put more money in the California Advanced Services Fund, and raise the minimum broadband standards it supports.

AB 1758 would more than double the size of the fund, raising it from its current maximum of $315 million to an eventual $665 million. However, only $150 million of the extra $350 million would go directly towards subsidising new broadband infrastructure. As it current reads, the split would be…

  • $150 million for broadband infrastructure construction grants.
  • $100 million for so-called broadband adoption efforts by “not-for-profit, community-based organizations, schools, and libraries”, which include “public education and outreach programs that are culturally appropriate and in relevant languages on digital literacy training, assistance with selecting a high-speed Internet provider, and subscription to high-speed Internet access”.
  • $75 million for broadband facilities in public housing. The thinking is that the legislature will be approving more housing projects, so more network wiring and equipment will be needed too.
  • $15 million for regional broadband consortia
  • $10 for the California Telehealth Network, which could be spent on services from existing broadband networks.

The previous effort to recharge CASF was focused on infrastructure grants, and failed in the face of vociferous opposition from incumbent telephone and cable companies who saw no benefit in subsidising potential competitors, indirect or otherwise. AB 1758 is designed to mute objections from incumbents and increase the appeal of CASF, which is primarily focused on rural areas, to urban interests.