Public housing projects go to the head of the line for California broadband subsidies

2 July 2013 by Steve Blum
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It’s only a flesh wound.

Broadband subsidies for public housing are still popular at the California state capitol, even if it means reducing already dwindling support for infrastructure construction in unserved and underserved areas. The senate energy, utilities and communications committee approved assembly bill 1299 this morning. It would take $25 million from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) and use it to install broadband facilities in public housing projects and support marketing programs aimed at convincing residents to sign up for service.

There was a grand plan to add $90 million to CASF, which is where the $25 million would have come from. But that measure – senate bill 740 – was shot down in the assembly utilities and commerce committee yesterday. So the money will come from whatever is left in CASF’s broadband infrastructure grant and loan accounts, once the current round of applications are processed. Although the total amount of the grant proposals being considered is more than what is available, it’s likely that not all will be approved. And the revolving loan fund will still have at least $13 million in it, even if all the pending requests are okayed.

Unlike yesterday’s hearing, the cable industry’s lobbyist joined with AT&T’s to support AB 1299. Not surprising, since it gives incumbent cable and telephone companies what amounts to a right of first refusal on public housing broadband projects and subsidies.

There will be an attempt next month to resurrect SB 740, and AB 1299 still has several more legislative hurdles to clear before it becomes law. But as it stands today, publicly subsidised broadband infrastructure support is coming to an end in California.