Thursday, January 17, 2008

California Broadband Task Force issues report with several build out recommendations

The California Broadband Task Force (CBTF) formed in late 2006 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued its final report Thursday recommending several measures to encourage broadband infrastructure build out in the state so that all Californians can have high speed Internet access. They include:

  1. Issuing infrastructure bonds and investing the proceeds with private sector companies to finance broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas.
  2. Utilizing the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) recently created by the California Public Utilities Commission to use existing phone bill surcharges to subsidize broadband deployment in high cost areas.
  3. Giving broadband providers a 10 percent tax credit on capital expenditures for investment in current generation broadband infrastructure capable of delivering combined download and upload speeds between 1mbs and 10mbs and a 20 percent credit for next-generation broadband infrastructure capable of providing combined throughput that exceeds 50mbs.
  4. Urging the Legislature to reauthorize the Rural Telecommunications Infrastructure Grant Program, a $10 million appropriation administered by the CPUC providing grants of up to $2.5 million per project, when it expires at the end of 2008. The report also recommends the $2.5 million grant cap be lifted.
  5. Authorizing local governments chartered as Community Service Districts (CSDs) to provide broadband service, either directly or through a contractor, if a private sector provider is unable or unwilling to deploy service to district residents.
  6. Providing access to state rights of way on a cost recovery basis for wireless broadband providers to bring service to presently unserved areas.
  7. Offering broadband providers space on state-owned properties on a cost basis to accommodate broadband distribution facilities.

The CBTF report did not set a time frame to achieve universal broadband access in California. The CBTF was tasked to “remove barriers to broadband access, identify opportunities for increased broadband adoption, and enable the creation and deployment of new advanced communication technologies.” Gov. Schwarzenegger also requested that the CBTF “pay particular attention to how broadband can be used to substantially benefit educational institutions, healthcare institutions, community-based organizations, and governmental institutions.”

A number of maps of wire line-based broadband access were developed by the CBTF that show broadband infrastructure is deployed unevenly throughout California, with nearly 2,000 towns and communities lacking broadband access while other parts of the state, mostly in metro areas of Southern California, enjoy state of the art connections.

The report views broadband as vital form of infrastructure. “Just as California has invested in other critical infrastructure such as roads, electricity, and water, the CBTF believes that the state must seize the opportunity to promote private-sector investment, leverage public/private partnerships, and lead the effort to increase broadband availability and adoption,” the report states.

A key question is whether the build out incentives proffered by the CBTF will be enough to fill in California's broadband black holes in a relatively short period of time without expanding the state's current universal telephone service requirement to include broadband services.

An executive summary of the report can be viewed by clicking here.

The full report of the CBTF can be viewed by clicking here.

A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger said the governor applauds the CBTF report and will be reviewing its recommendations.

In April of 2006, Schwarzenegger suggested a news conference that $200 million of Proposition 1D funds, the school construction bond approved by voters in November 2006, that are earmarked to expand the use of telemedicine could be used to help subsidize broadband build out in California.

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