Comcast loves publicly subsidised overbuilds, when it’s doing the building

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

You dare to overbuild me?

“Overbuilding” has been overused in Sacramento in recent weeks, with lobbyists from Comcast and the cable industry using the term to batter California assembly members into silence during a vote to extend a key broadband subsidy fund.

Casting themselves as victims of unfair, taxpayer-subsidised competition, the lobbyists claimed California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) money was paying to build new broadband systems on top of existing ones.

Not true.

Comcast cannot be overbuilt by any publicly funded project unless it chooses to be. It has the will, the resources and the experience to rapidly pre-empt any competitive project in its franchise areas, particularly when those projects are implemented with full public disclosure and at the speed of government.

In the Santa Cruz mountains, Surfnet Communications – a client of mine – applied for a CASF grant in neighborhoods where Comcast had refused to build.

Previously, Comcast told residents they would have to pay $334,000 if they wanted service. Once it learned of the application by Surfnet, Comcast said the $150,000 or so that residents had already collected would be sufficient, added in a $100,000 subsidy from county ratepayers and absorbed the rest. Except now it’s telling residents that they’ll have to pay, in some cases, thousands of dollars more for connections from roads back to mountain homes.

Effectively, Comcast has pre-empted Surfnet, which has placed its CASF application on hold. I have seen this behavior from Comcast before: once a publicly-funded project becomes known, they move quickly to kill it by immediately re-directing their available capital towards the area in question. They did it to projects I worked on in San Leandro and Lompoc too.

The wrestling match over whether to fund CASF continues at the state capitol. A $90 million extension was defeated last month, and the assembly utilities and commerce has until midday tomorrow to schedule a vote to reconsider. You can argue either way, but the decision should be based on truth, not lies. Let committee members know what you think.