Second chance for California broadband subsidies

12 August 2013 by Steve Blum
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It’s not pretty, but it’s alive again.

The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) has a new lease on life. The assembly utilities and commerce committee brought senate bill 740 back from the dead this afternoon on an 11 to 4 vote. If it makes it through the rest of the legislative process, it will add $90 million to CASF and (sort of) lengthen the list of eligible applicants.

All fifteen members of the committee were on hand for the special meeting. The only item on the agenda was reconsideration of last month’s rejection of SB 740. A parade of supporters endorsed it, no one opposed it and the vote came quickly. One republican, Jeff Gorell, joined all ten of the democrats on the committee in voting aye. The remaining four republicans voted no.

Committee chairman Steven Bradford (D – Los Angeles) stepped down from the podium to present the bill to his colleagues, eloquently listing the benefits for rural and urban communities alike. It was a more compelling pitch than the one given last month by the bill’s sponsor, senator Alex Padilla (D – Los Angeles), who was noticeably absent today.

The bill was not unscathed. The cable industry’s lobbying front, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, forced Padilla to add language that will make it very difficult, at best, for independent ISPs and cities to apply for broadband infrastructure subsidies. But that’s better than impossible, which is what they have right now.

Assuming a companion measure, assembly bill 1299, also makes it through the process, $70 million will be added to the CASF grant account, $25 million will go towards building and marketing broadband facilities in public housing, with $5 million being taken from the infrastructure loan fund to make up the difference.

The next stop for SB 740 is the assembly appropriations committee. After that, assuming the love fest continues, the full assembly votes on it. The goal is to have it on Governor Brown’s desk by mid-September.