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California Senators Gear Up for an Important Decision on Broadband Access

Why Common Sense is opposed to Assembly Bill 2749 -- and why legislators should be, too.

Tween child using a tablet.

California will soon receive $2.3 billion from the federal government to build broadband infrastructure, supercharging Governor Newsom's Broadband for All initiative to bring fast, affordable internet to every corner of the state. However, if the federal money isn't spent by 2026, it has to be returned. The California legislature is currently making some important decisions on how this funding is awarded -- and in an effort to ensure speed, the quality of some of the proposals is suffering.

Given the enormous need for broadband in California, is there a risk that we don't spend the money before the deadline?

The answer is no, and Common Sense, among many other digital equity advocates, is working to help California state legislators -- and the communities that these funds would impact the most -- understand that there is no need to rush the process. There's no lack of grant applicants willing to use the money, so let's make sure it's being spent on the right projects and in the right communities.

One of these "not good enough" proposals is Assembly Bill 2749. Authored by Assemblymember Quirk-Silva, AB 2749 would speed up the grant process by which the state of California gives out $2 billion in federal funding. So internet service providers will apply for this money, and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will give it out based on the relevant projects and service areas.

On top of "streamlining" how grants are allocated, the bill had some serious problems with application requirements. There was no enforcement mechanism to make sure providers were offering low-cost internet plans to their customers -- a major affordability and equity issue for Californians who already can't afford to pay for sufficient high-speed internet. It would have also jeopardized California's eligibility for an entirely separate pot of federal funding called the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program (worth billions of dollars).

Through successful advocacy in June, we were able to remove that harmful language. However, we're still concerned with the issue of "streamlining" the grant process for internet providers to apply for this funding.

By asking the CPUC to rush the grant approvals process, we put smaller local internet providers (those who we want most to participate) at an unfair disadvantage. These are providers that will expand their networks to unserved and underserved communities first, filling connectivity gaps created by status quo broadband buildout. Major internet service providers have decades of experience and nearly infinite resources to meet these deadlines, and community networks do not. Shortening deadlines without extending help to meet them is a recipe for the status quo: leaving out local providers and fueling an already monopolized internet service industry, who over the past two decades have left millions of Californians without access to high-speed internet.

Common Sense, among other advocates, opposes this bill unless it is amended. We are not concerned with California using these funds by the deadline. In fact, we have heard from local governments and community networks that they are ready to put this money to good use. They want to step up and provide service to rural, tribal, and lower-income communities that have long been abandoned by traditional internet service providers.

Instead, we want to see a diverse, competitive market for household internet, in which families have more options to choose from and providers keep their rates low. A competitive market also encourages providers to build their networks out equitably to reach as many consumers as possible and not skip over the communities that are not deemed "profitable." The grant process should allow as many applicants as possible to participate, ensuring a competitive process and well-deserved winners.

So what's the game plan?
Common Sense has been a leading advocate for universal, affordable high-speed internet. That's why we oppose this bill unless amendments are made to address the equity concerns above. But now we need your help.

AB 2749 has already made it through the California State Assembly with ease. It now has about two months to pass through the Senate and make it to the governor's desk for his signature. Senators are consistently hearing from large internet service providers that this is a good bill, when in reality these companies are just looking to block the competition.

This is an opportunity for legislators to hear from you.

If you live in California and would like to join the fight for universal, affordable internet access, find your senator's contact information here and let them know you oppose AB 2749 by using the talking points below -- they want to hear from their constituents.

Hello Senator [_________],

My name is ___________. I live in __________ and I am contacting you to share my opposition to Assembly Bill 2749 by Assemblymember Quirk-Silva. This bill would limit my community's ability to access federal funding meant for broadband infrastructure by

  • making it harder for local governments, community-based organizations, and small internet providers to apply for grant funding
  • and allowing larger internet companies to continue providing expensive, low-quality internet.

For these reasons, I respectfully recommend you vote "No" on Assembly Bill 2749. Thank you for your consideration.

Kami Peer

Kami Peer is the California Advocacy Associate at Common Sense. She advocates for policies and programs that promote universal access to affordable high-speed internet. Her work also encompasses the healthy use of the internet through digital citizenship and social media platform accountability.