Newsom’s budget revision hints at broadband policy change, adds money for mapping

18 May 2020 by Steve Blum
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Although governor Gavin Newsom’s revised budget proposal has gloomy news for many publicly funded services and agencies in California, there’s a bright spot of sorts for broadband development. Newsom wants to spend an extra $2.8 million on broadband speed testing and mapping, via the California Public Utilities Commission’s CalSpeed program…

To identify which areas of the state lack sufficient access to broadband, the May Revision includes $2.8 million and 3 positions in additional resources…for the Commission to enhance its broadband mapping activities. This additional information will better inform the state’s broadband infrastructure grant program, improve safety by providing broadband speed data at emergency response locations such as fairgrounds, and enhance the state’s ability to compete for federal broadband funding.

The May Revision proposes statute intended to increase the ability of the state to compete for federal funding to improve access to broadband Internet in California.

Like his original January budget proposal, Newsom’s revision doesn’t include money for broadband infrastructure, beyond what the state already spends, mostly through the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

The vague mention – twice – of better competing for federal broadband money provides a clue to where money might come from for broadband upgrades in communities that don’t offer sufficiently lucrative revenue streams to meet the profit goals of AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Frontier and friends. What the “statute” that’ll improve California competitive position will do wasn’t spelled out, but one possibility is raising the pitiful 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speed standard that those incumbents paid lawmakers million of dollars for argued eloquently for in the most recent CASF legislation. There’s a bill – senate bill 1130 – scheduled for a senate committee hearing next week that will do that.

Newsom also proposes to “loan” $420 million from special CPUC accounts to the general fund, including $60 million from CASF. Presumably that’s a temporary cash flow management tactic, and not a permanent reduction for CASF. But it needs watching. As the assembly 1665 debacle demonstrated, what the legislature giveth, the legislature can also taketh away.