Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Broadband Task Force report due in December, Schwarzenegger tells USC conference on digital infrastructure

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger addressed the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for the Digital Future conference on California's digital infrastructure today. But despite the stated focus of the conference, Schwarzenegger devoted very little of his keynote speech to the state's digital infrastructure. Like the state's other critical systems such as water and transportation, the state's digital telecommunications infrastructure is years behind where it should be and now requires billions of dollars of investment to bring it up to date to serve California's current and future needs.

I had expected the governor would use the conference as a platform to unveil a report that his Broadband Task Force formed by executive order last year was due to issue this week. It will now come out in December, Schwarzenegger said during a question and answer session following his speech. The report is to make specific recommendations on "how California can take advantage of opportunities for and eliminate any related barriers to broadband access and adoption."

Data recently released by the Federal Communications Commission show nearly 20 percent of California residents were unable to obtain broadband DSL service from their telephone companies as of Dec. 31, 2006.

Schwarzenegger told the USC conference he's directing the California Public Utilities Commission to be "much more aggressive in pushing broadband." But the CPUC's authority to prod telcos and cable companies to build out their infrastructures -- which in many areas of the state are unable to provide broadband Internet access -- is sharply limited by legislation Schwarzenegger signed into law last year, the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006.

While the legislation pays homage to the notion of wider broadband deployment, it also allows the big telcos and cable companies that dominate the state to avoid building out broadband infrastructure to as much as half of their service areas over the next four years. Backed by telco and cable companies, the statute effectively sanctions California's digital divide and makes any gubenatorial rhetoric to bring broadband to nearly all Californians ring hollow.

As Cisco Systems' Director of Technology and Communications Policy Jeffrey A. Campbell aptly put it in a panel discussion at the event: “The key is broadband infrastructure. We can have everything in terms of content, but if people cannot access them and at the appropriate speeds, it is worthless.”

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