California broadband subsidy debate moves behind closed doors

14 August 2013 by Steve Blum
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Waiting for the word.

Two bills that, together, will make significant changes to the way the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) operates face an uncertain future in the California legislature. Both are alive following Monday’s vote by the assembly utilities and commerce committee, but now need the blessing of key legislators to keep moving toward final approval.

Senate bill 740 adds $90 million to CASF and allows independent ISPs and cities to apply for broadband infrastructure subsidies. Assembly bill 1299 spends $25 million of that on wiring public housing projects and convincing residents to sign up for service. The bills are linked and will move (or not) through the rest of the legislative process more or less in parallel.

Not much is expected to happen in the next couple of weeks. The senate appropriations committee has AB 1299 on hold and the assembly appropriations committee will do the same with SB 740. It’s an arcane process, but in effect senate and assembly leaders will decide – probably around August 29th – whether the two bills will move forward into the legislative scrum of the final two weeks of this year’s session. If they give the green light, the full senate and assembly have to agree on final language and, by a two-thirds vote, send the bills to Governor Brown, who can exercise his veto power if he chooses.

Over the past few months, the bills have been re-written several times in order to placate cable and telephone companies. Cable lobbyists withdrew their opposition to SB 740 last week, but are by no means endorsing it and clearly would be happier if it died quietly in the appropriations committee. Supporters, led by the California Emerging Technology Fund (and including me), will continue to lobby for it.