Two broadband subsidy bills face California legislators. One walks away, the other limps

4 August 2020 by Steve Blum
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Liberty and the duke 625

Both of the active broadband bills in the California legislature survived committee hearings yesterday. The bill with higher broadband standards passed without changes. Slower speed standards in a rival, pork-stuffed measure were sharply criticised. It has to overcome double barrelled skepticism before it moves much further.

Senate bill 1130, authored by senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles), would raise California’s minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download/25 Mbps upload speeds. The assembly communications and conveyances committee approved it as presented.

On the other hand, assembly bill 570, which would freeze California’s standard at 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, met with significant push back from the senate energy, utilities and communications committee, despite extensive (and largely unhelpful) amendments agreed by its author, assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry. It was approved on a largely party line vote, but several democrats criticised the bill’s slow speed standard and put Aguiar-Curry on notice to work out her differences with Gonzalez.

Senator Henry Stern (D – Los Angeles) pointedly abstained, which has the same effect as voting no. Senator Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) ripped state investments in “outdated technology and infrastructure”. As a result, we have “terrible, horrible service, and it’s slow and it’s glitchy”, he said. “And yet we’re expecting people to learn and go to work and do everything else”.

SB 1130 also passed on a near party line vote – nine democrats in favor, three republicans opposed. Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, a democrat from Orange County, abstained, making the real tally nine for and four against.

There was a fair bit of confusion during the SB 1130 hearing, some of it accidental, some of it seemingly not. The accidental confusion came when Gonzalez mistakenly said, more than once, that the broadband standard in the bill is 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up. As the vote neared, it wasn’t clear which service level was on the table. Committee chair Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles) stepped in and settled the question beyond any doubt: the standard is 25 Mbps down/25 Mbps up.

The not-so-accidental confusion was spread by Kara Bush, a staff lobbyist for Charter Communications, and Carolyn McIntyre, the head of the Sacramento lobbying front for Charter, as well as Comcast, Cox Communications and other monopoly model incumbents. They made the nonsensical claim that setting symmetrical 25 Mbps broadband service as the minimum standard really meant that they would have to offer a service package at exactly 25 Mbps down/25 Mbps up, and that Charter’s 940 Mbps down/35 Mbps package wouldn’t qualify. This isn’t either one’s first rodeo – they know how the CASF program works. Any service tier at or above 25 Mbps each way would qualify, including Charter’s 940 Mbps/35 Mbps package. If Charter can deliver it. Which might be the whole reason for yesterday’s deception.

Both bills head to appropriations committees – SB 1130 in the assembly, AB 570 in the senate. The deadline for those committees to act is 21 August 2020.