Friday, March 02, 2007

California PUC a toothless watchdog on broadband access

The California Public Utilities Commission announced it's accepting applications from broadband providers seeking statewide franchises under the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act (AB 2987). The PUC said it will report on broadband availability in California by tracking households by census tract to determine which have broadband access and/or subscribe to broadband services. The PUC also said it would be "a vigilant watchdog in ensuring that this critical upgrade to the state's communication infrastructure reaches consumers of all income levels."

While the PUC's support for universal broadband access is laudable, AB 2987 doesn't give it the teeth to be that vigilant watchdog. The big telcos and cable companies aren't required by the legislation to build out their systems in order to offer broadband to all Californians. Instead, they are required to offer broadband to only half or less of their service areas by 2012 -- and there are are loopholes that reduce that requirement. The PUC can bark and snarl, but it has no bite when it comes to bridging California's digital divide, which by the way has little to do with a household's income but rather its location.

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