Formal opposition to California broadband subsidy grab filed

24 May 2017 by Steve Blum
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Although objections have been raised, legislative staff analyses have skated around the question of opposition to assembly bill 1665, which would effectively turn California’s broadband infrastructure subsidy program into a drawing account for AT&T and Frontier Communications.

No longer. The Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) submitted a letter, formally going on record opposing AB 1665. It highlighted the top three reasons it is bad public policy and bad for Californians…

  • Setting California’s minimum broadband standard at 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds is a step backwards, at a time when we must all move forward together. Reducing the minimum upload speed from the current 1.5 Mbps standard to 1 Mbps may seem like a minor issue, but its effect will be to lock rural and inner city communities into broadband infrastructure that is already one or two generations out of date. With high technology, small changes can result in great harm. Instead, California should look to the federal standard for advanced broadband service of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds.
  • AT&T and Frontier Communications should not be allowed to fence off most of rural California simply because they have accepted federal subsidies to provide service that doesn’t even meet the CPUC’s current standard. Because of the way the federal Connect America Fund program works, the money is often distributed in a checkerboard fashion. As a result, people are left stranded without acceptable service – a strategy Frontier has admittedly employed1 – because it is not economically feasible for a competitive provider to reach them.
  • The public housing broadband facilities program provides basic connectivity to some of California’s poorest residents, and should not be eliminated, as the current version of AB 1665 proposes to do. Its elimination is the result of demands by the California Cable and Telecommunications Association and its member cable companies. They fear that even simple WiFi service in public housing communities will damage a business model that depends on selling expensive television service bundles to people that cannot afford it.

Suggested remedies include raising California’s minimum broadband standard to 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds, eliminating any carve out for areas with substandard, but federally subsidised service and expand, instead of scrapping, the public housing broadband program.

AB 1665 is sitting in legislative limbo right now, awaiting action on the state budget.

CCBC opposition letter, AB 1665, 18 May 2017

Full disclosure: I’m on the CCBC’s executive team and wrote the letter, then sent it with the consortium’s blessing. I am not a disinterested commentator, take it for what it’s worth.