Broadband One Step Closer to Construction
The state is nearing a final decision for how to distribute $2 billion of last-mile broadband infrastructure funds. A preliminary decision adopted earlier this month addressed questions like how much will go to projects in each county, what types of organizations are eligible, and what kinds of affordability requirements the state will attach to the funded projects.
One of the main points of interest for counties is how the funds will be divided geographically. SB 156 requires the $2 billion to be split evenly between projects in rural and urban counties but did not define those terms. Within each of those designations, SB 156 further requires awards to be divided based mostly on the share of unserved households in each county.
While these requirements will ensure that the funds benefit residents in all areas of the state, it is inevitable that any single factor will fail to direct funds proportionate to their need. CSAC filed comments with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) urging them to keep in mind the inequities their final formula will create and to intentionally use future funds to correct them.
CSAC also encouraged the CPUC to prioritize applications from counties. Unlike traditional internet service providers, counties are accustomed to providing infrastructure based on need instead of profitability. The proposed decision provides a bonus, which CSAC supports, for applications made by or in coordination with local agencies, Tribes, nonprofits, and cooperatives.
The proposed decision also creates a system of ministerial review for applications that meet certain criteria. While this will help get funds out to projects more quickly, the criteria effectively exclude applications from counties. CSAC requested the CPUC either explicitly allow counties to use the ministerial review process or otherwise expedite applications from counties.
Affordability is another important piece of the proposed decision. Because access to broadband is meaningless if it is not affordable, CSAC supports the requirement for grantees to participate in the federal ACP, which subsidizes monthly broadband services for low-income households, and other affordability components of the decision.
The final decision will be adopted as early as next month and the CPUC will begin accepting applications after that. The federal funds must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent with work completed by the end of 2026.