Public housing broadband subsidies raise hard questions for CPUC

Cable comes knocking.

The California Public Utilities Commission is trying to untangle the can of worms created by the state legislature last year, when it passed assembly bill 1299, which sets up broadband subsidy programs for public housing projects. It was part of the package that added $90 million to the California Advanced Services Fund and extended eligibility for infrastructure grants and loans.

A ruling issued by commission president Michael Peevey last week contains a long list of questions – 39, in fact – that need answering before the CPUC can spend $20 million on broadband facilities in public housing projects and $5 million to market service to residents. It all boils down to three areas of concern:

  • Can public housing subsidy programs be run using procedures, standards and an ethos developed to manage grants and loans to private sector broadband providers, or are new rules needed?
  • Which projects and programs are eligible and which aren’t, given the twists and turns of the legislation and the complex – often byzantine – public housing ecosystem?
  • How do you manage a poison pill dropped into the law at the behest of cable lobbyists: a public housing project is not eligible for CASF subsidies unless it also allows cable companies (among other broadband providers) access to its residents.

Anyone who’s interested can offer advice. The first round of comments are due on 10 February 2014 and the commission will follow up with a series of public workshops, currently planned for March and April of this year. And then there will be more reports, drafts and public comments, with a final decision anticipated to come in July.