Do your own thing is a poor way to plan broadband in California

28 October 2015 by Steve Blum
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“The funding seems to be in silos, how do we break these silos down?”, asked assemblyman Jim Wood (D – Healdsburg) at the first meeting of the assembly’s select committee on the digital divide in California this morning. He was responding to presentations from representatives of organisations that specialise in developing broadband infrastructure for education, health care and public safety agencies. Those networks meet important needs, but for the most part have been, or are being, built with little or no consideration for overall broadband infrastructure development priorities in the state.

Wood’s question was rhetorical, but it’ll need to be answered as the committee he chairs does its work. Overall, broadband planning responsibilities at the state government level in California are scattered across dozens of different offices and departments. Caltrans, for example, doesn’t include broadband conduit in the road projects it builds, something that visibly frustrated Wood. “What the hell do we have to do to get that going,” he said.

“We have to shift how we think about our transportation network, it is a network first”, said assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz), who also took part in the hearing. “Yes, moving people but also moving data”.

Next year, Stone will bring back a stalled broadband planning bill he introduced in February. As it’s currently written, assembly bill 238 would set overall goals and specifically raise the minimum acceptable speed for broadband infrastructure projects subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up, from the current 6 down/1.5 up standard. It might end up going further though, and address some of the bureaucratic obstacles and narrowly focused priorities discussed today.

I’m involved in the AB 238 effort, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.