Urban issues take the lead at Sacramento broadband meetings

15 March 2013 by Steve Blum
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Not this meeting. Ours took longer and no decision was made. But at least we were co-ed.

Digital literacy and broadband adoption – the wired kind anyway – were high on most priority lists in Sacramento this week. Broadband infrastructure, well, not so much. For four days, various (directly and indirectly) state-funded broadband groups met with agency and legislative staff, policy makers and telecoms companies. Much of the talk was about social service and educational programs, and how to fund them.

Broadband week, as many were calling it, kicked off Monday with an assembly committee hearing regarding digital haves and have nots. To the extent those testifying advocated, it was in favor of chairman Steven Bradford’s (D-Los Angeles) plan to shift money away from rural infrastructure construction and towards wiring urban public house projects and providing equipment and training to residents. Telecoms company representatives liked the idea – it would mean less competition and more customers for them – as did committee vice chair Jim Patterson (R-Fresno).

The conversation on Tuesday ranged more widely. Leaders from regional broadband consortia funded by the California Public Utilities Commission talked about progress made over the past year toward their shared goals, including infrastructure development and adoption of Internet service. Much of the same ground was covered Wednesday morning by the California Broadband Council, although the emphasis was decidedly back on urban access and adoption. AT&T’s decision to invest in expanding mobile service rather than upgrading wired plant also took heat.

Thursday, the stage shifted to the California Emerging Technology Fund, which hosted people involved in its projects and CPUC consortia. Representatives from federal and state agencies with money to spend on broadband and organizations with ideas for doing so rallied the crowd.

Gruffer broadband infrastructure projects were overshadowed by the “adorable puppies” of adoption, education and other socially-oriented programs. Both have their uses, though. As Harold Feld, the rousing keynote speaker from Public Knowledge, a Washington public interest law firm, reminded us, “what you really want to be is a puppy who can chew their ass off.”