Funding and eligibility for California broadband subsidies back on track in Sacramento

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

Open for business again.

The authors of legislation to top up the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) and make more broadband construction projects eligible for grants and loans have put money back in and removed unworkable restrictions pushed by industry lobbyists.

The primary proposal, senate bill 740, was originally written by senator Alex Padilla (D – Los Angeles) to add money to CASF, because current grant requests would, if approved, zero out the fund. It was also intended to make it possible for independent Internet service providers and local governments to apply for infrastructure construction subsidies, putting them on a level playing field with traditional telephone companies.

A full court press by cable and telephone company lobbyists, though, turned the language around 180 degrees as it moved through the California senate. It’s over in the assembly now, in the hands of the utilities and commerce committee, which is chaired by assemblyman Steven Bradford (D – Los Angeles). He and Padilla worked together this week to get the bill headed in the right direction. As written right now, SB 740 would…

  • Add $90 million to CASF.
  • Make the funding of middle mile projects a realistic possibility.
  • Allow independent ISPs and local governments to apply for last mile project funding in unserved areas on equal terms with everyone else.
  • Focus eligibility determinations on actual service delivered, rather than advertised claims.

The prior version, much loved by lobbyists, did none of these things.

There’s language in the bill that gives completely unserved areas priority for funding, ahead of underserved communities, which the CPUC is already doing. As a practical matter, the new language really only adds $65 million to traditional infrastructure construction subsidies, because a companion measure, authored by Bradford, would carve out $25 million for upgrading facilities and promoting broadband use in public housing.

SB 740 goes in front of Bradford’s committee on Monday.