Broadband subsidies for public housing might be wrapped in less red tape

29 July 2014 by Steve Blum
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Assuming there aren’t back channel conversations going on, there seems to be something like a consensus forming around draft rules proposed for subsidising broadband facilities and marketing programs in public housing in California.

Earlier this month, the California Public Utilities Commission released recommendations for spending $20 million on upgrading broadband infrastructure in public housing and $5 million on programs to encourage residents to subscribe to and use Internet services. The money was part of a grand deal made last year to top up the California Advanced Services Fund and expand eligibility – at least in theory – to independent Internet service providers and, to an even more limited extent, local governments.

Yesterday, four organisations – the California Emerging Technology Fund, TURN, Valley Vision and the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates (ORA) – filed comments on the plan. Rather than the horrified response earlier ideas produced, the comments mostly fiddled around the edges, suggesting tweaks to the plan rather than wholesale overhauls.

The most contentious point is the idea of allowing CPUC staff to approve grants based on particular criteria, rather than going through the commission’s formal – and lengthy and costly – decision making process. The original thought was to set the limit for expedited review at $500,000 per grant – which is what provoked the horror from ORA – but the latest draft scaled that back to $75,000. ORA let the lower figure slip past without comment; the others urged higher amounts. Whatever the final number, the apparent consensus on cutting red tape is what counts – there’s at least a hope of a fast and rational decision making process at this point.

There’s one more round of comments, then the next step will be writing draft rules to be considered by the commission. With luck, the program could be approved and in motion by the end of September.