“California needs to stop pursuing its own regulatory agenda”, said Rob Volker, CEO of the California Broadband Cooperative, the organisation that will operate the Digital 395 middle mile system. Getting approvals from dozens of agency – federal, state, local, tribal – consumed two out of the three years that were scheduled and budgeted to complete the project, driving the price up by $25 million. $10 to $11 million of that extra cost will come out of the California Advanced Services Fund, which might otherwise might have gone towards new broadband infrastructure elsewhere in the state.
He was speaking at a conference in Sacramento last week that brought together about eighty local elected officials, state and federal agencies and telecommunications providers. It was organised by the California Emerging Technology Fund, with considerable help from Valley Vision, the lead agency behind the Connected Capital Area Regional Broadband Consortium.
Kish Rajan, the head of the governor’s office of business and economic development, didn’t go quite that far but did urge a better balance between protecting what California has now and building for its future.
Lori Acton, a councilwoman from the City of Ridgecrest, along the Digital 395 route in eastern Kern County, called for the state to step in and standardise the process for approving broadband projects across California. Others, such as Mayor Cecilia Aguiar-Curry from the City of Winters in Yolo County, thought the answer was just the opposite, advocating greater local control and autonomy.
Regardless of how to go about it, there was general agreement among elected officials and industry representatives that barriers should come down and broadband construction treated like water or electricity or any other utility project.
“I can’t understand why we’re struggling to take this on as a utility”, said Lee Adams, a supervisor from Sierra County.