California Legislator Introduces Fiber Broadband for All Bill

Senator Lena Gonzalez has introduced legislation (SB 1130), which would allow the California state government to actively promote the transition of the state’s legacy communications infrastructure into a multi-gigabit fiber network that is competitive, affordable, and available to all residents lacking high-speed access. It does so by reforming the current California Advanced Services Fund (CASF): raising the fund’s minimum standards of what constitutes being “served” by broadband, requiring that any broadband network funded by the state to be high-capacity, and holding companies subject to open-access rules that promote competition. The legislation would put California on par with its international competitors, end the digital divide for Californians, and prevent a repeat of the lack of connectivity challenges residents have faced as they engage in social distancing, remote education, and working from home. EFF endorses S.B. 1130 and will work hard to get it passed into law this year. 

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What Does the Legislation Do?

The bill would amend CASF, the state’s broadband infrastructure program, and eliminate outdated provisions that were oriented around a DSL-connected Internet world. We’ve been critical of the CASF’s original statutory goals and how they are misaligned with 21st century Internet access. It is a backwards-looking policy, particularly at a time when others in Europe, in advanced Asian markets like South Korea, and in China have gone all-in on fiber-to-the-home. Notably, because the CASF program (which was amended in 2017) set the bar so low on what constitutes “served” with Internet access, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has a very hard time spending the $300 million that remains in the budget. After all: if you set your goals super-low so that most communities are considered “served” by broadband, it makes vast swaths of the state ineligible for investments simply because they have decades-old DSL networks.

Gonzalez’s S.B. 1130 solves this problem by reforming the program’s metrics and goals to be focused on high-capacity networks that are future-proofed. Right now, setting these networks up to last the test of time means installing fiber-optic connections. The reformed program would also expand high-speed wireless services, such as 5G, with the state’s investment by ensuring that state-financed fiber is open to all wireless entities. To ensure that the state-supported infrastructure promotes competition, the infrastructure would also be subject to open access principles. Lastly, the legislation would open the door to open-access fiber entities, which are companies or local governments who build the wires but lease capacity to others to sell broadband. By leveraging the successful fiber models that are popping up in international markets—and in parts of the United States such as Utah—the new CASF would be able to help put California’s larger cities on par with world-leading metropolitan areas such as Seoul, South Korea. And it would prevent rural communities from ever falling behind again in our lifetime. 

Senator Lena Gonzalez’s Legislation Would Begin to Bring an End to Inequality in Broadband Access

California’s broadband infrastructure has for years suffered from a lack of state policy promoting competition and 21st-century ready access. With rare exception, most Californians are forced to rely on either their cable monopoly or have no high-speed access to broadband to participate in the gigabit era. The trials and challenges Californians face in obtaining remote education and working from home as the state deals with the COVID-19 crisis have further demonstrated that the state’s inequalities regarding useful broadband access. Californians with limited income and those that live outside of major cities lack adequate broadband access and adequate access to a communications infrastructure ready for the next century of Internet innovation. Without that access, their ability to fully participate in society will be materially diminished, and inequality will spread as the benefits from next-generation applications and services become available to only a minority of residents.

This inequitable access is the result of policy choices—and new policies can resolve it. Should the legislature pass this legislation and the Governor sign it, California will be positioned to end inequality in broadband access, improve economic opportunity for the newly connected, eliminate the problems residents faced with remote education and telework, and usher in the entire state towards the gigabit era of broadband access. The $300 million sitting in state coffers for broadband access will be a substantial down payment that will transfer communities lacking access today. Absent such legislation, the state will continue its trajectory towards increased monopolization or complete lack of high-speed access to the Internet. The choice is clear. But your senators in Sacramento need to hear from you that you support this bill.

Take Action

Tell your lawmakers All Californians Deserve High-Speed Broadband Access

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/04/california-legislator-introduces-fiber-broadband-all-bill