Steve Blum | April 20, 2016
Broadband infrastructure subsidies are off the table in Sacramento, thanks to a coordinated campaign by AT&T staff lobbyists and the cable industry’s political front organisation, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA). Assembly bill 1758 was pulled by its author, assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz) after it became clear that the California assembly’s utilities and commerce committee was going to spike it at its meeting this afternoon.
Originally, AB 1758 would have put $150 million into the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) broadband construction subsidy account, and another $200 million in a range of broadband-related programs, including service for hospitals, facilities in public housing, digital literacy and marketing efforts and regional consortia.
A competing measure, AB 2130, written by AT&T and carried by an accommodating assemblyman, Bill Quirk (D – Hayward), was also pulled once the competitive threat posed by the open infrastructure grant program in Stone’s proposal was gone.
AB 2130 would have set up a $100 million infrastructure subsidy game and rigged it so that only incumbent phone companies could effectively play, putting the lion’s share into AT&T’s pocket with no meaningful strings attached. CCTA floated its own alternative, similarly designed to divert money directly to cable companies, but otherwise effectively the same as AT&T’s.
Stone’s offer of good faith negotiations and repeated attempts by Sunne Wright McPeak, CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, to find a middle ground were rebuffed. The chairman of the committee, assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), gave no indication that he’s any less interested in advancing AT&T’s agenda than he was last week when he gushed over another of its measures – AB 2395 – designed to allow it to yank copper lines out of unprofitable rural and inner city markets.
So Stone’s bill is dead.
Although resurrection is always a theoretical possibility in the California legislature, if you have a broadband project to build, you’d have a better chance buying lottery tickets for it. There might be attempts to fund one or more of the ancillary programs in Stone’s bill, perhaps by cannibalising what infrastructure money remains in CASF, but don’t expect to see more broadband construction money added to California’s kitty this year.
I’ve advocated for and helped to draft AB 1758 and its predecessors. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.