Cable and telco lobbyists block broadband infrastructure subsidies in California

7 January 2016 by Steve Blum
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Money walks when bullshit talks.

A plan to add more money to the main fund used to subsidise broadband infrastructure in California – the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) – is stalled, likely fatally. Assembly bill 238 would also have raised the minimum speed for acceptable service to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up, once areas with service that doesn’t even meet the current 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up have a shot at upgrading and service at that level is available to 98% of Californian homes.

Assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz) pulled the bill from the agenda for a key committee meeting on Monday, following a meeting yesterday with cable and telephone company lobbyists, regional broadband consortia members, rural county representatives, executives from the California Emerging Technology Fund and others, including me. Because of the way legislative deadlines work, if the bill isn’t approved by the assembly utilities and commerce committee on Monday, it’s very unlikely to go any further.

It’s a tactical retreat. Given the strident and odiferous opposition from cable and telco lobbyists – not just at yesterday’s meeting but also in one-on-one talks with committee members – it was as certain as it can be that there weren’t enough yes votes to be had.

Frontier is the only major incumbent that’s been willing to play with the CASF program, and now that it’s taking over Verizon’s wireline systems it should be even more enthusiastic. But it’s clear that most would prefer to have CASF die a quick and quiet death. Cable companies won’t touch anything that might entangle them with state regulators. AT&T and Verizon are all about mobile, and aren’t interested in investing in wireline service. Most of all, cable companies and mobile carriers are upset that independent competitors are getting CASF subsidies.

Odds are the lobbyists will get their wish, at least where AB 238, which is a holdover from last year, is concerned. The window to revive it is all but closed. But 2016 is a new year, and there’s still the chance that a new bill can start the game afresh.