Sharp limits on broadband subsidies approved by California Senate

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

I think I’ll send you over the Assembly for a little trim.

No more money for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) and tight restrictions on how any remaining funds can be spent. That was the decision yesterday of a large, bipartisan majority of California state senators, as they approved a broadband infrastructure bill largely written by cable and telco lobbyists.

In a 36 to 1 vote, they sent senate bill 740 to the assembly for consideration later this summer. As currently written, SB740 would keep the current funding cap on CASF and put more emphasis on subsidising broadband infrastructure construction in areas that have no broadband service at all.

Right now, CASF rules also allow grants and loans for projects that are in underserved areas, which the California Public Utilities Commission defines as any place where speeds of at least 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up are not available. All but one of the CASF grant and loan applications currently under consideration include underserved areas.

SB740 could have an impact on at least some of those pending applications. It was passed by the senate as “urgency” legislation, which means it takes effect immediately if it gets as far as Governor Brown’s desk and he signs it. One of the restrictions included at the urging of industry lobbyists prohibits funding middle mile projects for underserved areas. Two big proposals – from Golden Bear Broadband in far northern California and Sunesys on the central coast – include underserved homes, as do some smaller last mile projects that have middle mile components. The exact effect would depend on timing and how language is interpreted, but one possible outcome would be to kill those applications completely, protecting the interests of incumbent telephone and cable companies.

The bill would make independent ISPs eligible for CASF subsidies, if there was any money available, but also make it practically impossible for cities and counties to apply.

A parallel measure, assembly bill 1299, was due for a vote yesterday but was rescheduled for today. It would divert $25 million (or whatever is left) from CASF to broadband construction and marketing programs in public housing. It’s another favorite of industry lobbyists.