Broadband subsidy plan for both infrastructure and public housing taking shape in California legislature

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

It’s easy. Just build a bigger barrel.

There’s a deal forming in Sacramento to generate money for public housing projects and the non-profit organisations that orbit them by refilling the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) in a way that also maintains a healthy balance for broadband infrastructure subsidies. Two separate CASF-related proposals in the state legislature are being shaped to complement each other, if not converge into a single bill.

Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D – Los Angeles) wants to spend $25 million from CASF on wiring public housing projects for broadband and paying non-profit groups to run broadband promotion programs in those neighborhoods. He’s backing a measure – AB 1299 – to make that happen.

Although CASF has about $158 million available to spend on broadband infrastructure projects in poorly served areas of the state, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has a stack of grant requests totalling even more. So state senator Alex Padilla (D – Los Angeles) introduced senate bill 740, which would allow the CPUC to collect another $100 million, at a maximum rate of $25 million per year over five years by continuing to add a surcharge to telephone bills. (It would also expand eligibility for broadband subsidies beyond traditional telephone companies.)

Do the math: collecting $25 million per year for five years gets you $125 million, if the limit is bumped up. In fact, that’s how it was done the last time the CASF surcharge was reauthorised, by a bill that also made money available for, among other things, broadband adoption projects run by local non-profits, via regional broadband consortia.

AB 1299 gets worked over in committee on Monday, followed by SB 740 on Tuesday. I don’t expect the grand bargain to be finalised this week, but it’s in sight. There’s $25 million just sitting on the table. Californian lawmakers will not walk away from it.