Fiber for all broadband subsidy bill approved by California senate committee

27 May 2020 by Steve Blum
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Fiber patch panel sab photo 625

Future proof, fiber-based broadband infrastructure got a big boost yesterday as the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee voted to approve senate bill 1130. The bill would raise California’s minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download and upload speeds, and require projects subsidised with money from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to be capable of delivering symmetrical 100 Mbps down/100 Mbps up speeds.

As is common, changes were made on the fly and the exact language is still to be determined. The bill’s author, senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles) accepted changes that give desperately unserved communities – in practice, mostly rural ones – priority for CASF money.

She also agreed to allow the California Public Utilities Commission discretion to fund projects that provide service as slow as 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up. How that’s worded will be important, since the requirement that CASF-subsidised infrastructure be “future-proof” and the definition of that term – “sufficient capacity to deliver to end users 100 mbps downstream, 100 mbps upstream” – is still in the bill.

I don’t have the final vote tally yet, but the last count I have put the vote at 10 ayes and two noes. The two noes (and one of the ayes) came from republicans.

Update: the final tally was 11 ayes, 2 noes. All the democrats present voted aye, as did one republican; the two noes were both from republicans.

The sole speaker against the bill was Carolyn McIntyre, who heads the lobbying front organisation that cable companies, like Comcast and Charter Communications, hide behind in Sacramento. She seemed worried about communities that still don’t have access to the pitifully slow 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up minimum speeds that she and her clients (among others) foisted upon CASF three years ago. Her concern might even have been taken as sincere, were it not for the fact that one of the primary reasons those communities lack real broadband service is that they’ve been redlined by her clients.

The next step for the bill is for amendments to be finalised and posted. Then it goes to the senate appropriations committee, which is well known as a graveyard for popular bills that are inconvenient for cable and telephone companies with deep pockets full of cash for friendly lawmakers. One reason for hope, though: the Communications Workers of America, which is the primary telecoms union in California, supports the bill, and organised labor swings an even bigger bat at the California capitol.