Kids don’t need fast broadband if they have fast food, California assembly says

31 August 2020 by Steve Blum
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Salinas taco bell broadband

Gratitude to the Taco Bell workers in Salinas who cared, and props to Monterey County supervisor and former assemblyman Luis Alejo for the photo.

Democratic party leaders in the California assembly iced a bill yesterday that would have raised the state’s broadband standard to modern speed levels. Speaker Anthony Rendon (D – Los Angeles) bowed to pressure – and bags of cash – from AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and other monopoly model incumbents, and blocked senate bill 1130 from a floor vote in the California assembly. Democratic floor leader Ian Calderon (D – Los Angeles) took the hand off and moved SB 1130 to the assembly’s inactive file. Conventional wisdom says it’s dead.

A rumored deal between senate democrats and Gavin Newsom that would have endorsed the governor’s 100 Mbps download target is likewise RIP.

It’s a victory for big telecoms companies and their fellow travellers in Sacramento. California’s broadband standard remains at 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds, a service level supported by the decaying 1990s DSL infrastructure that AT&T and Frontier Communications refuse to upgrade rural California. Urban and suburban Californians enjoy faster speeds, but at a price: thanks to their cozy duopoly, cable and phone companies can charge half again as much for broadband service in the U.S. as they do in Europe.

SB 1130 would have raised that standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download and upload speeds, and allowed the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to pay for infrastructure upgrades in communities that lack it. Those subsidies could have seeded competition that neither telcos or cable companies want.

To stop that from happening, they induced a friendly assemblywoman, Cecilia Aguiar Curry (D – Yolo) to introduce assembly bill 570, which was ghostwritten by an allied non-profit, the California Emerging Technology Fund. It would have reaffirmed the 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps standard, and further weakened CASF by diverting cash into porkbarrel giveaways.

AB 570 was also pushed aside over the weekend, after it became clear that a majority of legislators in the assembly and the senate would vote in favor of SB 1130 if given the chance. Nearly all of that majority were democrats – with one exception, republicans have been opposed all along.

The clock doesn’t run out until midnight, and there’s talk of sending the legislature into overtime in September. In any other year, it would be crazy to say there’s any hope left for sound broadband policy at the California capitol. But 2020 is a crazy year.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.