Sweeping California broadband subsidies under the carpet

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Nothing to see here. Move along.

A new analysis of proposed changes to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) ignores restrictions added at the urging of cable and telco lobbyists. The primary purpose of the CASF program currently is to fund the construction of new broadband facilities in areas that don’t have access to service of at least 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. If California state senators base their vote on the latest summary prepared by legislative staff members, they’ll think they’re voting to 1. match amount of money added to the fund with the state’s needs and 2. make it possible for a wider range of companies and organizations to apply for broadband infrastructure subsidies.

Which is nonsense. As it currently reads, senate bill 740 would effectively cap CASF at its current level, make it more difficult to fund projects intended to improve substandard service and add restrictions that would all but eliminate middle mile facilities or municipal systems from eligibility.

As first drafted, SB 740 would have added $100 million to CASF and, as it still does, allow independent Internet service providers to apply for grants and loans. Cities and counties would have been eligible as well, on the same terms as any other applicant. But a full court press by lobbyists from the California cable industry, AT&T, Verizon and Frontier convinced state senators to turn the language around 180 degrees from its original goal.

No immediate decision is expected on SB 740. Because it involves a significant amount of money, it is being put on hold until after the legislature finalizes a state budget. Which means it’ll either get thrown into the wheeling and dealing that happens as the legislative session draws to a close, or it’ll die a quiet death.

Either way, there will be little opportunity for public debate about how California does or does not subsidize broadband development, leaving discussion and decisions in the hands of lobbyists and legislative insiders.