On October 3, Gov. Brown signed into law two bills that make changes to the California Advanced Services Fund (“CASF”). These bills are aimed at expanding broadband availability to the remaining unserved and underserved areas of California. In 2010, the California Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) authorized the CASF to provide broadband infrastructure grants to “telephone corporations” in order to bridge the digital divide in unserved and underserved areas in the state. “Unserved” areas are those where no facilities-based provider offers any level of broadband service such that Internet connectivity can only be achieved through a dial-up service. “Underserved” areas are those where no facilities-based provider offers service at speeds of at least 6 Mbps download/1.5 Mbps upload.
Since implementation of the CASF, over $200 Million in broadband grants and loans have been awarded in California. However, approximately 225,000 Californians still lack access to broadband services. Senate Bill 740 expands the existing CASF funding to entities that are not regulated by the PUC. Previously, CASF grant funding was only available to entities defined as “telephone corporations” under California law – specifically, ILECs, CLECs and wireless carriers. The new law allows other non-regulated entities, such as VoIP providers, cable companies, and other broadband providers to apply for CASF funding. Regardless of what type of provider is applying, priority will be given to last mile broadband access to households unserved by existing facilities-based broadband providers. The law also extends CASF funding to qualifying projects by local governmental agencies.
Assembly Bill 1299 allocates $20 Million of CASF funding to connect broadband networks to publicly-supported housing communities. This funding is intended to help these communities obtain reliable broadband access in “served” areas of the state, which otherwise would be ineligible for CASF funding. The law also allocates $5 Million to support programs designed to increase adoption rates for broadband service for residents of publicly supported housing communities. These funds are focused on those communities that have broadband access, but whose residents may lack the resources or understanding of the benefits of broadband access to adopt the service.