With a week left, California muni broadband bill still on legislature’s to do list

25 August 2018 by Steve Blum
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A bill that allows more types of local agencies to get into the broadband business, and requires such municipal broadband providers to abide by network neutrality principles, awaits a decision by the California senate. Assembly bill 1999, authored by assemblyman Ed Chau (D – Los Angeles), would remove a restriction that makes it all but impossible for community service districts to get into the broadband business.

It also explicitly allows other types of local agencies, such as county service areas and enhanced infrastructure financing districts (EIFDs), to provide broadband services. In theory, there’s nothing preventing that happening already, but on the other hand there’s nothing that says it can. To the extent restrictions exist, Chau says he wants to remove them

California law currently authorizes municipal utility districts and public utility districts to operate their own broadband networks, but other forms of independent local government have limited authority to do so. Restricting local governments from building out their own high-speed networks is counterproductive to closing California’s digital divide, especially in rural areas where only 43 percent of the population has access to broadband in their households, or in areas that only have access to one provider.

A parallel bill, SB 1145, gives EIFDs a little more financial flexibility. It would allow them to finance some ongoing maintenance costs, although not with money raised through a bond issue.

The net neutrality requirements – no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation – aren’t as comprehensive as those proposed in senate bill 822, which would apply to public and private sector Internet service providers alike. But if SB 822 doesn’t make it into law or is thrown out later by a court, the net neutrality obligations in AB 1999 would remain.

AB 1999 is just one of hundreds of bills that have to be acted upon by next Friday, when the legislative session ends. It has to be approved by the California senate, and then go back to the assembly for concurrence with a technical amendment that was made a couple days ago.