California senate committee guts broadband infrastructure funding, for now

30 April 2013 by Steve Blum
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“Just raising a number of concerns,” said the phone guy.

Additional money for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is on hold. The sponsor of a bill – SB 740 – to refill the fund with $100 million over five years, senator Alex Padilla (D – Los Angeles), pulled the money off the table today. He said he wanted to wait and see what happens to the more than $200 million in grant applications that are pending before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

His proposal to open up CASF to a broader range of applicants, including, potentially, municipal broadband systems and wireless Internet Service providers, moved forward, although it’s now weighted down with what’s looking like harder rules regarding eligibility for funding. Currently, any area that doesn’t have access to at least one provider offering 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds is eligible for some level of subsidies. Padilla said he’s adding language putting greater priority on subsidising unserved areas, where there’s no broadband at all.

Lobbyists from telephone companies and the cable industry thought Padilla was heading in the right direction, and urged additional restrictions that would make it even more difficult for competitors to qualify for CASF support.

Padilla seemed willing to accommodate them, saying he would continue to address their concerns. He sounded apologetic when he said he didn’t think it was a good idea to bake a lower allowable service standard – 4 Mbps down/1 Mbps up – into state law as the Frontier lobbyist requested, but he would try to point the CPUC in that direction.

There’s a lot that’s still uncertain. A copy of the amended bill hasn’t been posted on the web yet – I listened in via an Internet audio feed – so the details aren’t clear. In general, Padilla said his changes were in line with recommendations made by a committee analyst who emphasised that “Internet service at any old speed is not good enough if all Californians are to effectively participate in life in the 21st century.” So it’s a little early to assume that the final bill will completely kowtow to industry lobbyists. But it’s starting to bend that way.