Changing partners in the California broadband subsidy dance

18 June 2013 by Steve Blum
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Whose happy ending will it be?

With the California state budget passed by the legislature and sent on to Governor Brown for his expected signature, broadband subsidy bills are starting to move forward again. Senate bill 740 and assembly bill 1299 were approved last month in their original chambers, and have now swapped places.

SB 740 is the bill that will determine the future of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Originally, it would have added $100 million to CASF and made it possible for a wide range of independent Internet service providers and local agencies to apply for broadband infrastructure grants and loans.

But cable and telco lobbyists got their hooks into members of the senate energy, utilities and communications committee and stripped the extra money out of the bill and added restrictions that would make it very difficult to fund projects out of whatever might be left. Potentially, SB 740 as currently written could even scuttle projects already under review. It was approved by the full senate on a near unanimous vote and sent to the assembly, where it was just assigned to the assembly utilities and commerce committee.

Which was the home of AB 1299, a proposal to take $25 million (or whatever might be left in CASF) away from broadband infrastructure and give it to public housing projects. That bill was also approved with chop licking endorsements from incumbent lobbyists and sent over to the senate, where it’s been given to, surprise, the energy, utilities and communications committee. All very neat and tidy.

Under standard procedures, the senate committee has about three and a half weeks to figure out what to do with AB 1299, but the assembly committee can muck about with SB 740 until mid-August. One possible outcome being discussed is to combine the bills into either A. a compromise that keeps CASF in business or B. sees legislators and lobbyists roll over and have a smoke.

Any bets?