The California Public Utilities Commission announced it has formed the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), allocating $100 million in matching funds for 2008 and 2009 to encourage broadband providers to bring service to unserved and underserved areas of the state. In order to qualify, providers will be evaluated on a broadband throughput benchmark of 3 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload and would also have to offer Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) service.
The CPUC said the funds will come from a .25 percent surcharge on telephone bills, estimated to be five cents a month for an average customer. The CASF surcharge will be offset by an equal reduction in the California High Cost Fund-B surcharge created to subsidize deployment of basic voice telephone service.
One year ago, your blogger suggested the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger direct the CPUC to reform the five funds in California's Universal Service Fund program including the High Cost Fund-B -- which together received a total of $2.8 billion since 2003 to serve more than 7,600 designated high-cost areas -- to help speed the deployment of high speed Internet access in higher cost areas of the state.
The CPUC action sets a deadline of June 2, 2008 for submission of CASF funding requests. Consideration will be technology neutral and applicants will be required to provide a minimum of 60 percent matching funds as a prerequisite for consideration of their applications.
The CPUC decision finds that broadband infrastructure is critical to the economic health and welfare of the state and that "ubiquitous deployment of broadband holds tremendous opportunities for consumers, technology providers, and content providers, and is important to the continued health and economic development in California."
"Today's decision signals that this state is not content to sit around waiting for federal action to bring broadband to every part of our state," said CPUC President Michael R. Peevey. "We encourage every broadband provider in California to be a part of the solution for ending the digital divide in our state and participate in the CASF process."
As with other state-based broadband build out initiatives, the question is whether funding in the millions is sufficient to result in a meaningful expansion of broadband considering that in California and other states, the existing metal wire line based infrastructure is increasingly obsolete for the deployment of advanced telecommunications services and requires billions of dollars of investment to bring it up to date.
Here are links to the decision implementing the program and related proceeding documents.