Independent ISPs have a shot at California public housing broadband program

16 July 2014 by Steve Blum
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Fast, focused, low cost and sustainable projects are the answer to the problem of how to extend modern Internet access into publicly supported housing. That’s the conclusion of a report prepared by California Public Utilities Commission staff that lays out recommendations for implementing assembly bill 1299 – approved last year – which spends money from the California Advanced Services Fund on broadband facilities and marketing programs in public housing.

The report carefully draws boundaries. Inside wiring and networking equipment would qualify for CASF subsidies, backhaul fiber installed out in the street gets squat. In theory. CASF money is only part of the business plan – the capital expense part – so applicants have to have a long term operations plan…

Staff recommends the Commission award grants and loans to finance up to 100 percent of the installation costs, but not maintenance or operation costs. Additionally…staff recommends that the Commission require grantees to maintain and operate the network for five years after receiving Commission funding.

Operating networks is not a sweet spot for public housing authorities or non-profits. That’s a job that independent Internet service providers know best. Unfortunately, ISPs won’t be eligible to get the money directly – that’s written into the law – but there will be an opportunity to work with public housing operators, which are eligible.

The report includes a long list of other recommended requirements and restrictions, including technical specifications. The commission is taking comments on the report until 28 July 2014, and rebuttals for ten days after that. The next step is a formal draft resolution that will lay out the rules in detail, which will go through the same comment/reply cycle before the commission votes on it. If all goes to plan – but don’t plan on it – the program will be in place by the end of September, setting up a December application window.