Who gets CASF money is first decision on California legislative agenda, how much comes later

4 April 2013 by Steve Blum
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Structurally sound or not, the cake gets cut.

The debate over whether to give priority to public housing programs when California broadband initiatives are funded continues on 15 April 2013, when the Assembly utilities and commerce committee is scheduled to formally consider assembly bill 1299.

It would require the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to give particular consideration to urban public housing projects for California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grants. It would also allow money previously set aside to build broadband infrastructure to also be spent on broadband adoption programs.

This is the first, and possibly last, formal Assembly committee hearing on the matter. It’s already been aired once, at an informal hearing last month. It was clear, there and in subsequent discussions, that taking money away from capital construction projects and spending it on programs that promote broadband use was a popular idea with cable and telephone lobbyists. They don’t like subsidies that go to independent competitors, although they don’t object when the money heads their way. Which it would if CASF is redirected towards signing up more subscribers for incumbents.

A parallel CASF proposal – senate bill 740 – is on hold right now. It would add $100 million to the fund over five years, beginning in 2015. It would also allow the CPUC to be more flexible in determining what sort of companies and organizations can get construction subsidies. Other than that it would leave the current program intact. SB 740 has been put on the Senate energy, utilities and education committee agenda twice and pulled off twice. It hasn’t been rescheduled yet.

Update, 9 April 2013: SB 740 went back on the Senate energy, utilities and communications committee agenda for a third time – 30 April 2013 – and then was pulled off for a third time. At this point, the bill is not scheduled for a hearing.

It’s possible that the two bills will merge, even as soon as the upcoming assembly committee hearing. At this stage, the result would likely be a bill that puts more money in the CASF kitty but spends some of it on programs that please political supporters, including industry lobbyists. The only haggling that’s surfaced is over whether to include adoption programs in rural and suburban public housing too. That kind of horse trading is likely to lead to less infrastructure construction, not more.