Broadband fading into dull necessity at California legislature

26 February 2019 by Steve Blum
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Unlike electric service, broadband isn’t turning out to be a hot topic at the California capitol this year. Friday was the 2019 deadline for introducing new bills in both the assembly and senate. Nothing of any consequence directly relating to broadband issues dropped.

Only two bills address broadband head on – assembly bill 1409 by Ed Chau (D – Los Angeles) and AB 488 by Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo) – but neither breaks new ground as introduced. AB 488 would add a representative from the food and agriculture department to the California Broadband Council. It’s minor step, albeit useful. AB 1409 is a placeholder bill that targets the California Advanced Services Fund, the state’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program.

Placeholders are either a way of signalling that the author plans to take on an issue in a serious way later on, or it’s a way of beating the deadline by introducing a shell that can be turned into something real later on, via a gut and amend maneuver. It’s an opportunity for mischief.

Broadband plays a supporting role in a handful of other bills. In way, those might be more significant – increasingly, acceptable broadband service is being treated as essential to achieving major legislative goals, such as child development, public infrastructure upgrades and rural prosperity. Broadband access the door to “opportunities to improve agricultural productivity”, as AB 417 by Joaquin Arambula (D – Fresno) puts it, and a key measure of whether programs in disadvantage neighborhoods are achieving results, per senate bill 686 by Benjamin Allen (D – Los Angeles).

California legislators are worked up about what people do with broadband access, though. Particularly where their privacy is concerned. I count at least 17 bills – some placeholders, some a bit more specific – that deal with online privacy in general. Several specifically target California’s new privacy law, although none propose substantive changes yet. They all bear watching. Opponents – including telecoms companies that make generous payments to lawmakers – will lobby heavily to water it down.