Cable lobby edits California broadband subsidy bill, but at least it's moving forward again

7 August 2013 by Steve Blum
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You can’t have my precious.

A last minute deal was struck with the California Cable Television Association and Comcast to get their support for a bill that would add $90 million to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) and allow independent ISPs and cities to apply for infrastructure subsidies under very tight restrictions.

Senate bill 740 stalled in an assembly committee last month after cable lobbyists carpet bombed members with phony fears about overbuilding and false claims about how many Californians lack broadband service, and how much of it they need.

The draft version of the latest amendments would limit where and how an unregulated ISP could apply for CASF grants and loans. Funded projects would have to include unserved households, and incumbent broadband providers, such as Comcast or AT&T, would have a chance to grab the money if they want to upgrade their existing service. In other words, if an independent ISP spends time and money developing a project for underserved homes, any incumbent cable or telephone company would have the right to snatch it away.

A city or other local agency would be able to get funding only for building out to unserved homes or businesses, and only if no one else is interested.

As defined by the CPUC, an unserved home has no broadband service available at all, other than maybe satellite service, while an underserved home has something, but it doesn’t deliver at least 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. Currently, only telephone companies that are certified and regulated by the CPUC can apply. Today’s changes would not affect them; they would still be able to apply for either under or unserved areas without particular restrictions.

Assuming there are no glitches, the assembly utilities and commerce committee will consider the amended bill on Monday. The agreement also clears the way for a bill to fund broadband facilities and marketing programs in public housing.

Update, 8 August 2013 – the fully updated, current version of SB 740 is now available.