California love fest for public housing broadband subsidies

29 April 2013 by Steve Blum
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Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen fiber?

The California Assembly’s utilities and commerce committee considered a bill today – AB 1299 – to direct $25 million from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) toward wiring public housing complexes and encouraging residents to subscribe to broadband service.

No one was opposed. Lobbyists for AT&T, Verizon, Frontier and the cable industry all spoke in favor, which was no surprise. They’re naturally inclined to support something that reduces construction subsidies for competitors and will likely increase their subscriber count.

The AT&T lobbyist gushed over a project they did in Los Angeles, where they installed WiFi in a public housing development. He was careful to emphasise that any subsidies should be technology neutral. Presumably because AT&T is essentially getting out of the business of installing wired infrastructure in California.

Representatives from public housing operators, the CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates and the California Emerging Technology Fund also voiced approval.

There was no mention of the side benefits carved out for cable companies in the bill. The only question raised was whether money would be available for public housing in rural areas. Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D – Los Angeles), the bill’s sponsor and the committee chair, assured everyone “it’s for rural connectivity too,”. The way the bill is currently written, funding would more or less follow the current distribution pattern of public housing around the state.

The committee voted unanimously to approve the bill and send it on towards consideration by the full assembly. Tuesday, though, the senate utilities, energy and communications committee takes up a parallel bill – SB 740 – that would top up CASF and, likely, find money to subsidise broadband infrastructure in underserved areas of California as well as public housing.