One California rural broadband subsidy bill goes to the governor, another moves on to the assembly

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cvin fiber marker sr49

Friday was a good day for broadband at the California capitol, as two bills expanding eligibility for infrastructure subsidies won lopsided votes. Senate bill 1130 was approved by the senate, and now awaits action in the assembly. Following senate approval on Thursday, assembly bill 82 was blessed by the assembly and is now on governor Gavin Newsom’s desk. He’s expected to sign it today.

The big, difficult and high impact bill is SB 1130. It would raise California’s minimum broadband to 25 Mbps download/25 Mbps upload speeds, and encourage – but not require – the California Public Utilities Commission to spend California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) money on infrastructure projects that deliver similarly symmetrical 100 Mbps down and up service. SB 1130 would also impose much needed open access requirements on CASF-subsidised middle mile projects. Monopoly model incumbents are against it, and the front organisation for Comcast, Charter Communications and other cable operators – the California Cable and Telecommunications Association – is, so far, the face of the opposition.

The 30 to 10 vote for SB 1130 (there’s one abstention in there, but that has the same effect as no) was mostly along party lines. One republican – Ling Ling Chang, from Orange County, joined democrats in voting aye. She was also the sole senate republican to vote aye on SB 822, the 2018 California network neutrality bill.

The more immediately useful bill, though, is AB 82. It takes effect as soon as Newsom signs it and allows the CPUC to top up October bids for federal broadband subsidies with CASF money, even when it would be spent in places that wouldn’t be eligible for it under normal circumstances. In 2017, the California legislature bowed to telco and cable lobbyists and lowered California’s broadband standard to 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, in order to protect their rural low speed, high price rural business model, and to fence off lucrative, high income neighborhoods from competition. The eligibility standard for federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) subsidy program is 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up.

AB 82 passed easily with 57 ayes, with democrats and republicans on both sides of it in the 80 member assembly, and with a strict 29 to 11 party line vote in the senate. It wasn’t particularly a vote on broadband – AB 82 is a catch-all, budget clean up bill that also deals with alcohol, cannabis and privacy issues, among others.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.