California legislature adds $90 million to broadband subsidy fund

12 September 2013 by Steve Blum
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What will Jerry do? No, the other one.

The California legislature approved senate bill 740 yesterday, adding $90 million to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) and widening, a bit, the list of broadband providers who can apply for construction subsidies.

The state assembly gave its blessing on a 59 to 16 vote, and sent it over to the senate, where it was approved 34 to 3. The bill now goes to Governor Brown for his approval, or not.

Assemblyman Steve Bradford (D- Los Angeles) spoke for the bill on the assembly floor, not without a bit of disingenuousness (although well within the customary Capitol allowance)…

“This bill give the PUC statutory authority to award infrastructure grants to entities such as wireless internet service providers, known as WISPs. The change will help reduce the overall amount of funding needed to achieve universal broadband access statewide because WISP technology costs substantially less per household served than the traditional providers to hard to reach areas.”

True enough, but the bill also puts severe – fatal, in most cases – restrictions on WISPs, cities or other independent broadband providers who want to apply for infrastructure grants and loans. Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D – Contra Costa County) was careful to point out that incumbent interests were protected

“The California Advanced Services Fund is a universal service subsidy program to fill in where there’s market failure, often in high cost rural remote sparsely populated areas where there’s no business case for private investment without a public subsidy…this bill ensures that the fund provides support only where private investment is lacking.”

“SB 740 prioritises and targets funding for households and communities that have no broadband service. SB 740 also guarantees existing providers the option to upgrade service before a new entity gets funding.”

A companion bill, AB 1299, was also approved by the senate yesterday, and is expected to be taken up by the assembly later this morning. It would spend $25 million on broadband facilities and marketing in public housing projects.