California Legislature OK’s bill to streamline broadband rollout

Gov. Gavin Newsom has been given the option to sign a bill that backers say will ease expansion of broadband, but detractors call it a way to undermine local government’s control of what goes on utility poles.

The sponsor of the legislation – Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa – announced Wednesday that the Assembly had passed SB 556, its last step before heading to the governor’s desk.

“… too many households across the state can’t get it because it’s not available where they live. Today we take a big step toward addressing that problem by bringing local government into compliance with federal standards that will ultimately help close the digital divide,” Dodd stated.

He added that the bill removes local control on placement of small cell devices on poles while setting “reasonable fees” and deadlines for the permission to do so. The bill would specify time periods for various actions relative to requests for placement of a small wireless facility by a communications service provider on a street light pole or traffic signal pole.

Dodd said, “The bill was introduced as employers and schools across the state have shifted to virtual participation, highlighting disparities of access faced by low-income families and people of color.”

Nearly 42% of California families said unreliable internet access was a challenge for them during distance learning, according to a recent poll by EdSource and FM3 Research.

Internet service provider Verizon told legislators, “This legislation is critical to increasing broadband access for consumers, students, small businesses, and communities whose broadband options are in many cases limited or unavailable.”

But according to the League of California Cities, “SB 556 is an attempt by the telecommunications industry to undermine local authority in broadband permitting while making no meaningful progress towards closing the digital divide in California's unserved and underserved communities."

The Journal reported last month, “The long-awaited task of connecting the whole country with broadband internet may be no longer up in the air since it’s about to receive a $71 billion windfall, raising hopes among North Bay stakeholders that even users on the fringes will get service.

“At $65 billion, the largest chunk of these funds is coming from the U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed the U.S. Senate. It’s in the hands of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Added to that is $6 billion set aside by the state toward upgrading broadband capacity.

Out of California’s 58 counties, the 37 deemed as rural are due to receive about $5 million each in baseline funding, which amounts to $185 million of a $1 billion bucket. The remaining $815 million will be earmarked for underserved households receiving broadband internet service operating under 100 megabits-per-second downloading speeds.

Part of another $1 billion dedicated to urban counties may go toward the rural county effort.

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