California muni broadband battle continues, with or without federal advice

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Even if it’s adopted as is – and it’s as likely to get worse as it is to get better – a wish list of muni-stomping broadband policy drafted by a Federal Communications Commission advisory group, and echoed by the FCC majority, probably won’t have much impact in California.

That’s not necessarily good news for Californian cities and counties, though. One of the recommendations – grant cable franchises on a statewide basis with an impossibly light and delicate regulatory touch – has been law here for more than ten years. Cable companies pushed through the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act (DIVCA) in 2006 and now answer to no one.

Local control over permits for wireless facilities – on private property or in the public right of way – has been steadily eroding and mobile carriers, as well as telephone and cable companies, continue to keep the pressure on in Sacramento. They’ll be back next year looking for on-demand access to city and county owned assets, such as light poles or land, at below market rental rates. Senate bill 649, which was passed by the legislature this year but was vetoed by governor Brown, would have done all that. Brown wasn’t fundamentally opposed to the idea, he just thought the bill went a bit too far. That’s an open invitation to try again, with some of the rough edges sanded off.

The third major recommendation was to kill muni broadband systems, and give away muni fiber to incumbents so they wouldn’t suffer the horrible pain of competition. That would be difficult in California. The California constitution gives cities, particularly charter cities, a considerable degree of autonomy. Even though full service muni broadband systems are relatively rare here, they do exist. And the number of muni dark fiber systems is growing. Trying to claw back that authority would be difficult, legally and politically.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.