Dueling broadband bills face off in California legislature today

3 August 2020 by Steve Blum
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Fast, reliable, future-proof broadband gets a hearing this morning as the California assembly’s communications and conveyances committee (C&C) takes up senate bill 1130. A competing measure – assembly bill 570 – which would lock rural Californians into 1990s DSL technology for another decade or two, will be heard by the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee (EU&C) this afternoon.

So far, there’s no indication of legislative pushback on SB 1130, which is authored by senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles). The analysis by C&C staff doesn’t recommend any changes, although amendments could be introduced at the meeting. On the other hand, EU&C staff’s analysis of AB 570 proposes to make an already complicated and poorly written bill even more byzantine.

Both bills propose to change the way the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is run. CASF is California’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program. It was originally intended to bring modern broadband infrastructure to (mostly) rural communities that had been passed over by AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications, Frontier Communications and other monopoly model Internet service providers. Three years ago, those companies slammed changes through the legislature, including lowering California’s minimum broadband service standard to 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds.

They don’t like SB 1130, which would raise that standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download/25 Mbps upload speeds, a service level that requires either full fiber to the home service or the most advanced (and fully provisioned) version of cable modem technology. Besides lobbying lawmakers to reject SB 1130, they prevailed (via the California Emerging Technology Fund) upon assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo) to gut an affordable housing bill and amend it to reconfirm 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up as California’s minimum broadband standard and, by the way, dole out pork to themselves and their friends.

Make no mistake: they don’t like AB 570 much either. It’s a tactical move intended to sufficiently confuse the broadband policy debate and kill off SB 1130.

Remote participation is allowed by C&C and by EU&C. call in numbers should be posted on their respective websites. The C&C hearing starts at 11:00 a.m.; the EU&C hearing is scheduled to begin as soon as the senate completes its business this afternoon, which could be anytime from 2:00 pm. on.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.