Hope dims for good broadband policy in Sacramento

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

It’s an eclipse that’s shading the sun this morning, not the return of the California legislature from a month-long break. Although you might be excused for thinking so. The dismal outlook for broadband policy in the California capitol is as gloomy as the Oregon coast will be this morning. But our neighbors to the north will only have to wait a couple of minutes for the light to return. We’ll have to endure the darkness.

Three bills are pending that could shape Californian broadband policy for years to come.

The big one, from a broadband development perspective, is assembly bill 1665, which would take $300 million from Californian taxpayers in order to pay for better broadband infrastructure, but then give it to AT&T and Frontier Communications so they can lock rural communities into 1990s style DSL systems.

AB 1665 started out as a legitimate attempt to upgrade rural broadband service, but it was hijacked by telco and cable lobbyists, who routinely stuff millions of dollars into lawmaker’s pockets. At first, legislators nodded and grinned and waved it through. And lobbyists kept adding perks, to the point where even their closest friends began to choke.

So now, co-sponsors – who signed on before the bill turned into an industry slush fund – are backing away from it and more than one legislator has called it dead, at least for this year. That’s not a guarantee, but it’s the way conventional wisdom is leaning. If that’s the case, California has dodged a bullet. If that’s the case.

Senate bill 649 is a proposal to preempt local government ownership of light poles and other vertical assets and give them away at bargain basement prices to mobile carriers and infrastructure companies. It’s fiercely opposed by pretty much every city and county in California and is awaiting a final committee vote in the assembly.

AB 375 would reinstate Internet privacy rules that the federal government scrapped. It’s stuck in committee limbo right now, waiting for legislative leaders – who are more sensitive than most to the cash flow from telecoms lobbyists – to decide whether it’ll get a fair hearing or die a silent death.

California lawmakers have four working weeks left in this year’s session to decide if they owe more allegiance to the telecoms industry than to the public.