Legislative games put $2.2 million Riverside FTTH project in peril

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Red zone is where federal subsidies pay for slow broadband service.

Anza Electric Cooperative is giving another push to its proposal for a $2.2 million California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grant to pay for expanding its fiber to the home system in rural Riverside County.

It sweetened its application yesterday by promising a low cost tier of service – $25 per month for symmetrical 10 Mbps service – to households that are eligible for any one of a long list of public assistance programs. Combined with offers of free service to a short list of non profit groups and discounted service to others, and low cost (sometimes no cost) computers, it’s a way to raise the profile of its application a bit, and perhaps move it through the California Public Utilities Commission’s vetting process more quickly.

That’s important because if a commission vote doesn’t come soon, the Anza project might be killed by assembly bill 1665, which is awaiting a vote in the California senate.

AB 1665 would change the rules for CASF, which is the state’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program. The bill would make it effectively impossible to award CASF grants for high speed fiber projects where an incumbent telco – in this case, Frontier Communications – might eventually use federal subsidies to pay for minimal upgrades to low speed, 1990s vintage DSL technology.

Because it had to get around legislative deadlines, AB 1665 was declared to be an urgency bill, which means it takes effect the moment it’s signed by the governor. If it makes it that far, it’ll go into effect no later than mid-October.

This sudden death clause was added to the bill by its nominal author, assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, who turned over writing responsibilities to telco and cable lobbyists early in the process. He’s a democrat and, ironically, represents Riverside County, although not the part that includes the project area. Anza is in the assembly district next door, which is represented by republican Randy Voepel, who sent a letter of support for the project, but has otherwise been missing in action as AB 1665 slithers through through the legislature.

In the past, the CPUC has taken the position that what counts are the rules that are in effect when the application is filed. But that’s not firm ground in any case, and for the Anza project, it’s very thin ice. Frontier has been aggressively litigious – at times, egregious – in opposing state subsidised broadband upgrades. Except, of course, when it’s getting the subsidies. And attitudes towards competitive projects are hardening at the CPUC. If AB 1665 becomes law before the CPUC votes on whether or not to fund it, the outlook for the Anza project is very bleak.