Future proof broadband infrastructure for “all Californians” is goal of new senate bill

6 April 2020 by Steve Blum
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Dig once conduit 1oct2019

With the aim of ensuring “all Californians will gain access to broadband that is ready for the 21st century”, a coalition of broadband advocacy groups and independent broadband companies are sponsoring a bill that would undo the self-serving damage that monopoly model telcos and cable companies, and their allies, did to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) in 2017.

Senate bill 1130 raises California’s minimum broadband standard from the pathetic 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds that support incumbent business plans and little else, to modern, symmetrical 25 Mbps service, and sets a de facto goal of deploying future proof fiber infrastructure in any community, regardless of population density or household income levels.

Carried by senator Lena Gonzales (D – Los Angeles), SB 1130 landed at the state capitol last week. As currently written, it says…

  • California’s minimum broadband service standard is set at symmetrical, 25 Mbps download/25 Mbps upload speeds, with “a latency that is sufficiently low to allow real-time, interactive applications”. As a practical matter, that means service from fiber to the premise and upgraded cable modem infrastructure. Conventional telephone company copper systems (i.e. any flavor of DSL) or fixed wireless facilities can’t deliver 25/25 service on a wide scale, consumer-focused basis.
  • Subsidised projects have to be capable of delivering symmetrical 100 Mbps download/100 Mbps upload speeds, and must deploy low latency, “high-capacity, future-proof infrastructure”. That means fiber. No other technology can do that at scale.
  • Middle mile infrastructure must be open access, meaning anyone can buy capacity on it.
  • Last mile infrastructure might also have to be operated on an open access basis, to one extent or another, depending on circumstances.

There are other useful changes in the bill, including priority for “high poverty areas”, an end to the cable industry’s “line extension” money laundering scheme, and tightening the deadlines and financial responsibility for telcos and others that take advantage of right of first refusal privileges.

As with any legislation, the bill’s future is cloudy. The California legislature suspended committee hearings and floor sessions because of the covid–19 emergency. When legislative business resumes – it’ll have to, if only to meet the constitutional budget deadline – the to-do list could be very short. But that’s a problem for later. For now, SB 1130 is a welcome fix.