Tag Archives: ab570

Two broadband subsidy bills face California legislators. One walks away, the other limps

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Liberty and the duke 625

Both of the active broadband bills in the California legislature survived committee hearings yesterday. The bill with higher broadband standards passed without changes. Slower speed standards in a rival, pork-stuffed measure were sharply criticised. It has to overcome double barrelled skepticism before it moves much further.

Senate bill 1130, authored by senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles), would raise California’s minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download/25 Mbps upload speeds. The assembly communications and conveyances committee approved it as presented.

On the other hand, assembly bill 570, which would freeze California’s standard at 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, met with significant push back from the senate energy, utilities and communications committee, despite extensive (and largely unhelpful) amendments agreed by its author, assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry. It was approved on a largely party line vote, but several democrats criticised the bill’s slow speed standard and put Aguiar-Curry on notice to work out her differences with Gonzalez.

Senator Henry Stern (D – Los Angeles) pointedly abstained, which has the same effect as voting no. Senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) ripped state investments in “outdated technology and infrastructure”. As a result, we have “terrible, horrible service, and it’s slow and it’s glitchy”, he said. “And yet we’re expecting people to learn and go to work and do everything else”.

SB 1130 also passed on a near party line vote – nine democrats in favor, three republicans opposed. Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, a democrat from Orange County, abstained, making the real tally nine for and four against.

There was a fair bit of confusion during the SB 1130 hearing, some of it accidental, some of it seemingly not. The accidental confusion came when Gonzalez mistakenly said, more than once, that the broadband standard in the bill is 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up. As the vote neared, it wasn’t clear which service level was on the table. Committee chair Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles) stepped in and settled the question beyond any doubt: the standard is 25 Mbps down/25 Mbps up.

The not-so-accidental confusion was spread by Kara Bush, a staff lobbyist for Charter Communications, and Carolyn McIntyre, the head of the Sacramento lobbying front for Charter, as well as Comcast, Cox Communications and other monopoly model incumbents. They made the nonsensical claim that setting symmetrical 25 Mbps broadband service as the minimum standard really meant that they would have to offer a service package at exactly 25 Mbps down/25 Mbps up, and that Charter’s 940 Mbps down/35 Mbps package wouldn’t qualify. This isn’t either one’s first rodeo – they know how the CASF program works. Any service tier at or above 25 Mbps each way would qualify, including Charter’s 940 Mbps/35 Mbps package. If Charter can deliver it. Which might be the whole reason for yesterday’s deception.

Both bills head to appropriations committees – SB 1130 in the assembly, AB 570 in the senate. The deadline for those committees to act is 21 August 2020.

Dueling broadband bills face off in California legislature today

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Clint

Fast, reliable, future-proof broadband gets a hearing this morning as the California assembly’s communications and conveyances committee (C&C) takes up senate bill 1130. A competing measure – assembly bill 570 – which would lock rural Californians into 1990s DSL technology for another decade or two, will be heard by the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee (EU&C) this afternoon.

So far, there’s no indication of legislative pushback on SB 1130, which is authored by senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles). The analysis by C&C staff doesn’t recommend any changes, although amendments could be introduced at the meeting. On the other hand, EU&C staff’s analysis of AB 570 proposes to make an already complicated and poorly written bill even more byzantine.

Both bills propose to change the way the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is run. CASF is California’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program. It was originally intended to bring modern broadband infrastructure to (mostly) rural communities that had been passed over by AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications, Frontier Communications and other monopoly model Internet service providers. Three years ago, those companies slammed changes through the legislature, including lowering California’s minimum broadband service standard to 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds.

They don’t like SB 1130, which would raise that standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download/25 Mbps upload speeds, a service level that requires either full fiber to the home service or the most advanced (and fully provisioned) version of cable modem technology. Besides lobbying lawmakers to reject SB 1130, they prevailed (via the California Emerging Technology Fund) upon assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo) to gut an affordable housing bill and amend it to reconfirm 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up as California’s minimum broadband standard and, by the way, dole out pork to themselves and their friends.

Make no mistake: they don’t like AB 570 much either. It’s a tactical move intended to sufficiently confuse the broadband policy debate and kill off SB 1130.

Remote participation is allowed by C&C and by EU&C. call in numbers should be posted on their respective websites. The C&C hearing starts at 11:00 a.m.; the EU&C hearing is scheduled to begin as soon as the senate completes its business this afternoon, which could be anytime from 2:00 pm. on.

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.

Small payoffs from big cable, telcos buy support from non profits and politicians in Sacramento and D.C.

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Need a beer

Petty cash can be as effective in buying political support as megabuck payments to elected officials and political parties. The latest example is unfolding in Washington, D.C., where Charter Communications is asking the Federal Communications Commission for permission to 1. enforce data caps on its customers and 2. start charging video competitors for access to those customers two years before the expiration of conditions imposed when it acquired Time Warner cable systems.

It’s the same story with assembly bill 570, which would lock Californians into slow broadband for a generation while shovelling taxpayer money to Frontier Communications and cable companies for minimal upgrades. Non profits are being actively recruited to sign on as supporters.

Some of the pay offs are in the tens of thousands of dollars range, but even a couple hundred bucks is enough to buy a letter of support. Whenever AT&T or companies – Charter and Comcast, particularly – want something from California lawmakers, they supplement their direct payments with testimony from a parade of non-profit organisations that have no discernible expertise or engagement with telecommunications policy.

As well told in an article in Ars Technica by Jon Brodkin, non profit organisations and politicians take Charter’s money and return the favor by arguing Charter’s case for early release from its FCC obligations…

Alongside the angry users of Spectrum Internet service are a number of politicians and charities urging the FCC to grant the petition. Charter has donated to these nonprofits and politicians, and it has apparently made a big outreach effort to get their public support for the petition. Many of the letters to the FCC echo Charter’s argument that it shouldn’t be treated differently from other Internet providers that don’t face such conditions—even though Charter willingly agreed to them in order to secure approval for a merger that made it the second-largest ISP in the United States after Comcast. The letters from nonprofits and politicians ignore the negative impact data caps would have on broadband customers.

The letters continue a years-long trend in which ISPs have been donating to charities and receiving their support in lobbying campaigns to complete mergers and eliminate consumer-protection regulations.

Reply comments on Charter’s FCC petition are due next Thursday. AB 570 comes up for a hearing the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee on Monday. A competing broadband bill, senate bill 1130, which would raise California’s minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps speeds, is also queued up for a hearing on Monday, in the assembly’s communications and conveyances committee.

I assisted the City of Gonzales with its efforts at the CPUC during the Time Warner Cable acquisition review, and its negotiations with Charter. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Telcos, cable delete fiber, add more pork to rival broadband subsidy bill in California legislature

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Pure pork night 625

Frontier Communications grabs a bankruptcy bailout and cable companies get subsidies to reach high income homes in the latest version of assembly bill 570, posted on the California legislature’s website on Monday. It’s big telecom’s alternative to senate bill 1130, which would raise California’s minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps fiber-ish speeds.

AB 570 is authored by assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo). Through the end of last year, she collected $83,000 from companies in the communications and electronics sector, including $24,000 from AT&T and $12,000 from Comcast, Charter Communications and other cable companies, according to the FollowTheMoney.org website. That’s more than some of the members of key telecom policy committees in the California legislature were paid by industry lobbyists.

Big cable companies slipped in a small change into AB 570 that could bring them big, taxpayer-subsidised profits. The last time monopoly-model incumbents rewrote CASF rules, they allowed cable companies to launder grant money through consumers via a “line extension program”. The California Public Utilities Commission now limits eligibility to low income homes. That restriction would disappear, per Monday’s version.

The bill still locks Californians into slow, 1990s style Internet service – if the best you can get is 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, then you are deemed to be sufficiently served. If you don’t have that level of service available, then Frontier could get money from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to upgrade you to something that’s “adequate to support distance learning and telework”, according to the latest amendments to AB 570. Which might mean 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up – that DSL speed tier gets priority over costlier but faster technology in the bill – or it could mean slower speeds.

With minimal central office upgrades, Frontier can push 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up speeds to nearby customers via its decaying copper networks. Homes further down the line will get much slower adequate speeds. AT&T could do the same, but in recent years it hasn’t gone after CASF grants.

Aguiar-Curry is AB 570’s nominal author, but it’s ghostwritten by the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), a non-profit funded and advised by major cable and telephone companies. The new version of the bill sets up CETF for a $500,000 a year contract to manage broadband subscription sales programs, which are also subsidised by CASF.

The California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee is the next stop for AB 570. Whether it gets heard at the committee’s scheduled meeting on Monday will partly depend on how assembly and senate leaders resolve their current turf war.

Update, 29 July 2020: The senate energy, utilities and communications committee put AB 570 on the agenda for its Monday, 3 August 2020 meeting. It’ll happen after the senate floor session is over. That probably means late afternoon, after the assembly communications and conveyances committee votes on senate bill 1130.

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.

Short broadband to-do list for California legislators upon return from summer vacation

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

California lawmakers are taking an abbreviated summer break. They usually leave Sacramento for a month around July, but since they were off for so long earlier this year due to covid-19 and because of the uncertain condition of the state budget, their effective vacation was trimmed back to less than two weeks. They’re scheduled to return to the capitol a week from today. When they return, they’ll have just a handful of broadband-related bills to act on.

The assembly’s incumbent-friendly communications and conveyances committee is scheduled to take up senate bill 1130 next Tuesday, the day after the legislature reconvenes. SB 1130, carried by Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles) would raise California’s minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download and upload speeds, and make other useful changes to the California Advanced Services Fund. An opposing bill, assembly bill 570, that tracks with talking points pushed by cable and telephone company lobbyists, is headed for the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee. AB 570 is authored by Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo), would cement in the current, pitiful 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up standard and make other changes to the California Advanced Services Fund that suit incumbents with monopoly business models and deep pockets full of cash for pliable legislators.

SB 431, authored by Mike McGuire (D – Sonoma) has been stalled in the assembly communications and conveyances committee for more than a year, but is now scheduled for a hearing next Tuesday. Given the monied interests it offends, its prospects are dim. SB 432 would give the California Public Utilities Commission explicit instructions to established reliability standards for telephone, cable and mobile companies, and any other Internet service provider in high fire threat areas. Fortunately, the CPUC isn’t waiting for explicit instructions.

AB 2421, by Bill Quirk (D – Alameda) would require cities and counties to issue permits for back up generators at macro cell sites, following a minimal and expedited review. Those generators would also be exempt from California Environmental Quality Act requirements. AB 2421 was passed unanimously by the assembly in June, and is queued up in the senate.

Other broadband policy bills could appear as the legislature works towards adjournment at the end of August, but for now it’s a short list.

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.

Bill to beat down broadband subsidy program drops in California assembly

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Liberty valence 625

It was long expected. On Monday, assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo) gutted an affordable housing bill and substituted text that would, if enacted, reaffirm that California’s broadband standard is stuck in the 1990s at 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, and make it even more difficult to use the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to bring modern service to rural communities.

Assembly bill 570 is the cable and telephone industry’s response to senate bill 1130, which is carried by senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles) and would raise California’s minimum broadband speed to a symmetrical 25 Mbps down and up. The AB 570 language tracks with talking points pushed by Comcast’s and Charter Communications’ Sacramento lobbying front, the California Cable and Telecommunications Associations (CCTA), and parroted by the California Emerging Technology Fund, a non-profit that takes its money from cable and phone companies these days.

They’ll be the big winners even if all AB 570 does is kill off SB 1130.

But it might go farther than that. AB 570 would also allow government agencies to tap into CASF and use it to backfill information technology and telecoms budgets. Up until now, CASF’s primary job has been to pay for upgrading rural broadband infrastructure, at least when it wasn’t being gamed by incumbents. The perilous condition of state and local government finances this year will make any new source of operating revenue very attractive to lawmakers.

That’s just in case the millions of dollars they’re paid by the likes of AT&T, Frontier, mobile companies and the cable industry isn’t sufficient motivation to embrace AB 570.

Aguiar-Curry rubbished SB 1130 during a California Forward-sponsored broadband policy webinar in May, even though she said she hadn’t read it yet. She was also a key backer of 2017’s AB 1665, which lowered California’s broadband standard to 6 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up, and turned CASF into a piggy bank for monopoly model incumbents.

This time, she’s taking the lead.

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.