Hint of daylight for CASF community broadband funding

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,
Pretty much any organization would be eligible for broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) if the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) follows through on a decision made last week and if the California legislature agrees.

Right now, funding is limited to companies that sell telephone lines (very broadly defined) and hold either a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) or are registered wireless telephone carriers.

Cities, independent Internet service providers, non-traditional telecoms ventures, community organizations and others can’t get funding directly. Some, for example ISPs, could apply for CPCN status, although it’s a complicated and costly process. Applicants should have $100,000 in the bank and expect to pay legal fees of $5,000 or more. Others, such as cities, can’t.

The CPUC voted last week to begin the process of changing its rules to allow “any commercial provider of broadband access or any nonprofit entity, including government entities or community anchor institutions that elect to provide facilities based broadband service” to apply for CASF grants and loans. The full text of the commission’s order is here.

When it updated CASF rules earlier this year, the commission rejected requests to broaden the eligibility requirements. This change of direction is the result of lobbying by the California Emerging Technology Fund and a wide range of non-profit and government organizations. It also reflects some frustration at the CPUC with the lack of CASF projects from eligible applicants. Only three projects (an FTTH proposal in the California desert, a DSL project in Mendocino County and a satellite-based service for Monterey County) were submitted in the most recent application round, and more than $150 million in funding authorization is sitting idle.

If it happens, change won’t come quickly and certainly not before the next round of CASF applications are due on 1 February 2013. The first step is to define what the proposed new rules would encompass, which will take anywhere from six weeks to a few months. Then, the commission estimates it’ll take 18 months to get it done, and it might be longer. And CPUC can’t do it on its own: before anything can take effect, the California Legislature needs to pass a law permitting it.

Then the Governor has his say. How long will it take? Ask Linda.