Hostile takeover of California broadband subsidies on ice, for now

18 July 2017 by Steve Blum
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The attempt by telephone and cable companies to hijack the California Advanced Services Fund – the state’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program – is derailed, for at least a few weeks and probably forever. Keeping in mind that forever in Sacramento’s dictionary means until the next legislative session, which begins in January.

Assembly bill 1665 was pulled off of this morning’s agenda in the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee, which means that it can’t be considered again (in the normal course of business) until lawmakers return from their summer break on 21 August 2017. After that, there’s nothing preventing the committee from taking it up, but it would be unusual. With only three weeks left in the session at that point, legislative triage begins to kick in. If it looks too badly damaged to save or there’s no appetite for doing so, it’ll be allowed to die peacefully.

No guarantees, though. The bill was amended last week to make it an “urgency” measure, which is a parliamentary maneuver that allows it to dodge most of the deadlines that the legislature sets for itself. Otherwise, it would already be in the dead file due to a similar delay last week. The chairman of the committee, senator Ben Hueso, has been an extremely good friend to telecoms industry lobbyists so far this year and could go to bat for them again. Even if it means going outside the boundaries of the normal course of business.

Telecoms companies and their lobbyists have higher priorities this year, including getting unfettered access to publicly owned poles and stopping an attempt to put the Internet privacy rules they convinced the federal government to kill into California law. So it’s more likely than not that AB 1665 will lie in its coffin until next year, when the bill’s backers will decide if its worth resurrecting. But it’s not certain. And certainly not a safe assumption.