Broadband incumbents and local leaders see similar broadband challenge in California

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

You have to bury the lie before you can bury fiber.

Hundreds of thousands of Californian homes do not have access to modern broadband service. Building infrastructure to reach them is a priority for industry, and local and state government. There was wide agreement on both points at a conference held in Sacramento that brought together elected officials and broadband professionals from every corner of California.

The event was organised by the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), with the assistance of Valley Vision, the lead organisation in the Connected Capital Area Broadband Consortium.

Sunne Wright McPeak, president of CETF, framed the problem as she kicked off the two-day event, saying that getting California to the point where 98% of homes have modern broadband access means deploying infrastructure to half a million more. That’s been CETF’s goal and it’s now the State of California’s, thanks to senate bill 740, which was recently signed into law. Even then, a quarter million Californian homes would still be effectively unserved.

But for once, everyone agreed on the magnitude of the problem, including industry representatives. An AT&T lobbyist, Marc Blakeman, stuck to the company’s standard mobile-first talking points, but also talked up the wired upgrades they’re doing in more lucrative urban markets and did not dispute the size of the overall statewide gap.

An overdue and very welcome about-face came from Comcast’s staff lobbyist Scott Adams, who acknowledged that only 96% of Californian households have access to wired broadband and admitting “it’s been increasingly difficult to address the remaining four percent”. Comcast seems to be giving up the claim that only 12,000 homes are unserved, a lie repeatedly told by their hired gun John Moffat and California cable industry lobbyist Carolyn McIntyre as they unsuccessfully tried to kill SB 740.

There was no mistaking the tension and distrust between the major incumbents and political leaders, but there’s no longer any doubt about the broadband gap all want to see closed, and the urgency of doing so. That’s a huge step towards fixing it.