Broadband construction cost hike slides toward California assembly vote

26 May 2014 by Steve Blum
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Assembly bill 2272 is primed for approval by the California assembly. It would jack up the cost of subsidised broadband infrastructure projects – nearly double in some cases – and make it harder, perhaps impossible, for independent Internet service providers to get money from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

On Friday the appropriations committee, by a 13 to 4 margin, sent the bill forward to a vote on the assembly floor. It didn’t quite split along party lines – republican assemblyman Eric Linder, who represents the Corona area, joined the dozen democrats on the committee in voting aye.

Frank Bigelow, who represents the Mother Lode area, was among the 4 republicans who voted no. That’s something of a departure: last year he abstained completely from voting on a bill to top up and extend CASF and on a companion measure to include public housing projects in the program after it was also tied to the additional money. Since he’s an owner and officer of Ponderosa Telephone Company, which has benefited hugely from CASF, it would have been a conflict of interest. But not so with this latest bill, it seems.

The measure would add CASF-subsidised infrastructure builds to the long list of publicly funded construction projects that are subject to what are euphemistically known as prevailing wage requirements. It means that contractors on covered projects have to pay union wages, at the least, and follow union work rules, regardless of whether market rates are lower or craftsmen in competitive trades are more flexible. The result is that labor costs – which account for something like 80% of the cost of broadband projects – routinely double.

If there was any doubt, the committee vote confirms that democrats and republicans in less-than-safe districts are not going to upset labor unions in an election year, when campaign cash and troops count. No serious opposition is expected when the full assembly votes, which is expected to happen tomorrow (Tuesday, 27 May 2014).