Opposition wave stuns California broadband subsidy grab

11 July 2017 by Steve Blum
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An effort to turn California’s broadband infrastructure subsidy fund into a monopoly preservation program is stalled, at least for a week. The chair of the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee, Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), opened yesterday’s meeting with the announcement that consideration of assembly bill 1665 was postponed until next Tuesday, 18 July 2017. He gave no reason for the delay, but it’s worth noting that dozens of organisations – counties, broadband consortia, independent Internet service providers and others – withdrew their support last week after AT&T and Frontier Communications turned it into a blatant pork barrel bill, instead of the thinly disguised one that was approved by the California assembly.

The analysis of AB 1665 prepared by the committee’s staff was published early Monday morning, a few hours before the hearing. It proposed a number of new changes, including chopping the $300 million infrastructure subsidy account in half, but did nothing to fix the major problems with the bill: California’s minimum broadband speed would still be reduced to 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds, AT&T and Frontier would still be able to carve out most of their territory and get first call on the money, and they’d be able to spend it on antiquated systems that won’t – can’t – meet current standards.

The big question now is whether or not AB 1665 is dead, at least for this year. Normally, Friday would be the deadline for Hueso’s committee to approve it, which isn’t going to happen. That leaves two options: put it on ice and bring it back in 2018, or raise the bill’s profile and finesse the rules. The former is the safe route, the latter risks hiking a tax and funnelling it to two politically connected corporations in a year when the legislature has already significantly increased the burden on California taxpayers.

The smart move would be to wait.