Higher speeds and more money for Californian broadband infrastructure subsidies proposed

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Adding money to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for broadband infrastructure projects and raising the minimum acceptable speed for Californians to 25 Mbps down/3Mbps up is back on the table in Sacramento.

Assembly bill 238, authored by assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz), would do that. It was introduced last year, but put on hold, largely because of opposition from rural interests. The fear was that raising the minimum speed would take money from rural areas – many of which don’t have broadband service available at the current minimum 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps – and give it to urban and suburban communities where available service is merely below average, as opposed to being completely substandard.

As a practical matter, it’s not a huge danger. There are relatively few urban/suburban areas in California where 25/3 service isn’t already available. Changing the standard would actually have a bigger impact in rural California, where fixed and mobile wireless broadband operators are increasingly claiming to offer 6/1.5 levels of service but can’t deliver on anything like a comprehensive or consistent basis. Or at prices most households can reasonably afford.

The current rewrite of the bill addresses those concerns, though, by giving priority to areas that qualify for CASF subsidies under the 6/1.5 criteria, at least until 98% of the state is served at that level. It also takes care of another problem: CASF is running out of money. The way it’s structured now, the fund gets its money from a tax on telephone bills, but the total amount that may be collected is limited, both in total and on a yearly basis. AB 238 would remove those caps and give CASF a permanent source of funds.

There’s a meeting this afternoon in Sacramento where interested parties – incumbents, rural representatives and others involved in broadband development – will discuss and, likely, debate the current text. I’ll be there – it’s easily important enough to [take a day off from CES]().

Assembly bill 238 draft, as of 6 January 2016