New Californian broadband subsidy priorities take shape

26 April 2013 by Steve Blum
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Committee chair Steven Bradford wants more money for urban organizations.

Next week may determine the future of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which provides subsidies for broadband infrastructure in underserved (and unserved) areas of the state. Two bills will be aired in front of two committees – one in the state senate, SB 740, the other in the assembly, AB 1299.

SB 740, which will be heard by the senate energy, utilities and communications committee on Tuesday, would add $100 million to the fund by extending a fee that’s tacked on to phone bills and allow a greater range of broadband providers to apply. So far, it’s fairly straightforward. The real politicking surrounds AB 1299, which has the much more interesting purpose of deciding who gets the money.

The latest version of the bill, which heads to the assembly utilities and commerce committee on Monday, carves out $25 million for broadband projects in public housing. $20 million would be spent on connecting public housing units to broadband and $5 million would go towards convincing the people living there to buy service from whoever is providing it.

An earlier version was less specific about the amount of money, but more restrictive on who could apply. The first draft of AB 1299 would have limited broadband subsidies to public housing “in urban regions” of the state. In classic Sacramento style, that restriction was horse-traded away in exchange for rural support. The language now says the money should be spread around “in a manner that reflects the statewide distribution of those publicly supported housing communities“.

As it stands, CASF has about $158 million left out of the original $200 million allocated for broadband infrastructure construction grants. There’s another $15 million in a revolving loan fund and $10 million goes towards regional broadband consortia, which spend the money on a number of different activities, including broadband access and adoption programs similar to those contemplated in the latest version of AB 1299.