California legislature can help and hurt broadband infrastructure development this week

18 August 2014 by Steve Blum
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One step forward and two slides back.

Two bills with big implications for broadband infrastructure in California are queued up for votes in the state legislature this week. Assembly bill 2272 was blessed by the senate leadership last week and sent on for a floor vote. The date hasn’t been set yet.

That bill would put a huge dent in the California Advanced Services Fund by requiring all the projects it subsidises to follow an inflated statewide set of union work rules and pay scales, regardless of who is doing the job or what the going rates are in a particular area. Not only would the so-called prevailing wage requirement drain CASF faster, it would reduce the incentive for non-unionised independent ISPs to build new broadband infrastructure. Unionised incumbents might not even notice the difference.

So far, it’s moved slowly but steadily through the legislative process with barely a peep of protest. Democrats, who have a big majority in the legislature, have uniformly supported it and few republicans have opposed it. Neither side wants to upset the bill’s union backers in an election year.

On the other hand, assembly bill 2292 – would allow local governments to use infrastructure financing districts to pay for broadband projects. It was unanimously approved by the assembly local government committee last week, after listening to San Leandro mayor Stephen Cassidy outline the advantages. It’s scheduled for what could be final approval by the assembly today (the senate has already voted in favor), although it’s possible it could be bumped to later in the week.

The legislature has two more weeks left in the current session. Any bills now on the table will either be approved by the end of next week or die quietly.

Tellus Venture Associates proudly counts the City of San Leandro as a client. I have finally talked to them about AB 2292, but it’s something I’d support regardless of whose idea it is. It’s a bill that would benefit most of my clients. For that matter, AB 2272 would hurt many of my clients. So I’m not a disinterested commentator; take it for what it’s worth.