Tag Archives: gavin newsom

Newsom’s broadband budget language doesn’t translate to infrastructure

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San benito pole route 13apr2019

Broadband references are sprinkled into California governor Gavin Newsom’s state budget proposal but, taken at face value, he’s focused on shifting money from hard capital infrastructure projects to soft programs and annual operating budgets.

Although tagged as an infrastructure investment in Newsom’s budget summary, his “Broadband for All” initiative is about operations, comprising four elements: mapping, education spending, “optimising” existing resources and “prioritising connectivity across executive actions and policies”.

The California Public Utilities Commission already has a fine mapping program, which Newsom wisely intends to expand. It’s the brightest broadband item in his budget. If the CPUC is allowed to combine availability data with comprehensive network maps, inventories of state owned facilities and construction cost data, and make it public, then independent broadband infrastructure projects become more feasible.

Feasible, but not funded.

Consistent with past practice, Newsom proposes to spend $261 million on broadband facilities and information technology acquisitions for schools over the next five years, which is praiseworthy (as are many other items in the $153 billion budget) but has rarely improved broadband infrastructure that’s directly available to consumers and businesses. Keeping broadband top of mind in state government is likewise a good thing, and when agencies look outward and cooperate with private sector telecoms companies – Caltrans’ dig once program is a good example – the general public benefits. More often, though, connectivity improvements are limited to meeting agencies’ internal IT needs. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

It’s Newsom’s third bullet point – “optimising use of existing resources” – that threatens to divert what little money California spends on general broadband infrastructure development to other purposes. As his budget summary explains…

Informed by GIS-based mapping, the state will review existing fund sources available for broadband adoption and activities. This review will include the California Teleconnect Fund, the California Advanced Services Fund [CASF], and federal funding opportunities to maximize the return on existing investments. In total, these funds provide approximately $900 million over the next five years that can be targeted to critical broadband activities statewide.

The California Teleconnect Fund subsidises broadband service for schools and other organisations. Federal broadband funds are speculative at best – so far, California is shut out of the federal agriculture department’s newest broadband infrastructure subsidy program.

What’s left is CASF. Which holds the only money – somewhere around $300 million – that California earmarks for general broadband infrastructure construction. Which isn’t specifically listed as one of California’s “critical broadband activities”.

Adoption – digital literacy and broadband subscriber acquisition programs – gets a mention. Schools are in for a lot of love. Libraries and state IT departments get a nod too. Broadband for businesses and consumers? Nada.

Schools and community programs are wildly popular; government operations are Sacramento’s core business. Subsides for independent broadband infrastructure are neither, and are opposed by monopoly model incumbents who pay lawmakers millions of dollars to pay attention. Newsom’s budget offers no challenge to that status quo.

Spreading high tech wealth and restricting self-employment on California governor’s to do list

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

California governor Gavin Newsom took aim at technology companies during his state of the state address on Tuesday. Although bullish on California’s high tech economy, he dangled the possibility of a tax on data…

California is proud to be home to technology companies determined to change the world. But companies that make billions of dollars collecting, curating and monetizing our personal data have a duty to protect it. Consumers have a right to know and control how their data is being used.

I applaud this legislature for passing the first-in-the-nation digital privacy law last year. But California’s consumers should also be able to share in the wealth that is created from their data. And so I’ve asked my team to develop a proposal for a new Data Dividend for Californians, because we recognize that your data has value and it belongs to you.

He didn’t explain what a “data dividend” is, but given his long list of new and expanded state programs, it seems likelier that he’s thinking in terms of taxing tech companies rather than requiring them to send dividend checks to everyone.

Newsom also talked about changes in employment law but, again, was short on details. Referencing a California supreme court decision that limited the ability of individuals to work as self-employed contractors – Uber drivers, for example – Newsom called for…

A new modern compact for California’s changing workforce…to ensure technological advancements in AI, blockchain, big data, are creating jobs, not destroying them, and to reform our institutions so that more workers have an ownership stake in their sweat equity.

He plans to give the job of figuring out how to do that to a new commission that will include representatives from businesses, but also from labor unions, which have actively worked to hinder self-employment in California in the past.

There was no mention of broadband or other telecoms issues in Newsom’s speech, but he did talk about electric utilities, primarily PG&E. He promised to be an active participant in PG&E’s bankruptcy case, saying he’s “convened a team of the nation’s best bankruptcy lawyers and financial experts from the energy sector” to “seek justice for fire victims, fairness for employees, and protection for ratepayers” while never wavering on safety or pursuit of clean energy goals. As with most everything else, Newsom didn’t say how he would do all that, but at least he offered a 60-day deadline for coming up with answers.

Zorro in, Yoda out as a new political era begins in California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Zorro 625 tall

California has had three democratic governors in the past 75 years: Pat Brown, Jerry Brown and Jerry Brown’s chief of staff. And the chief of staff – Gray Davis – didn’t end well. That changes on Monday, when Gavin Newsom is sworn in.

Jerry Brown earned his reputation as the wise old man at the California capitol. But he’s also a skilled operator, with the finest political mind in California. He would jump into a fight when it was both necessary and winnable, and he rarely, if ever lost. By contrast, Newsom is a crowdpleaser with a swashbuckling persona. He’ll have to duel with fellow Sacramento action heroes once the Jedi master leaves town.

Brown often accommodated telecoms companies that have political money to spend. He was willing to veto one giveaway to telcos in 2017, but he signed another. His office successfully pressured the CPUC to reverse its endorsement of net neutrality rules in 2014, allegedly to protect cash flows from AT&T, Comcast and other monopoly model broadband companies. Then last year, Brown signed California’s own net neutrality law, although it was a politically safe move because the real teeth had been taken out of it, and what was left was destined to be iced by federal courts.

Newsom has to decide to what degree he’ll please telecoms lobbyists who, he must hope, will continue to write big checks to him, to lawmakers and to party causes.

Newsom also has to fill a vacant seat on the California Public Utilities Commission. Who he appoints could say a lot about his priorities – or lack thereof – regarding utility policy in general and, perhaps, broadband policy in particular. Assuming no one resigns from the CPUC, Newsom will have one seat to fill in his first two years as governor. Carla Peterman, who came to the CPUC from the California Energy Commission, ended her term on Monday.

Brown began his third term as governor in 2011, and in his first three months appointed people to the CPUC who had a diverse range of industry experience. Mike Florio was a longtime attorney with TURN, a utility consumer advocacy group, Catherine Sandoval is a telecoms law professor and former FCC staffer, and Mark Ferron was a banker and tech financier. Over time, though, Brown shifted to appointing close aides with extensive political and, particularly, climate change portfolios, but virtually no industry or regulatory experience.

With more political debts to pay and none of Brown’s elder statesman gravitas, Newsom could succumb to pressure and appoint commissioners who appeal to allies with a special interest in the CPUC’s business. There’s no deadline for filling the vacant CPUC seat. Brown was about three weeks into his term when he made his first appointments. It’ll be interesting to see if Newsom can move as quickly.