If we’ve learned anything from COVID, it’s that high-speed internet service is vital. We need broadband for commerce, education, health, social connections, and entertainment.
All Californians need access to true high speed internet, similar to our need for energy and water. However, one thing remains clear: the state does not know enough about access to broadband, nor about the quality of services.
With energy and water, the State knows each connected residential and commercial location and the quality of this service. If the water in your home is brown, the state may take corrective action with the service provider.
Unlike broadband service, the state does not know every connected location, where connections exist, and does not know about the quality of service. This is because broadband service providers provide census tract-level data to the Federal Communications Commission, which provides a copy to the California Public Utilities Commission. The data is so insufficient that the Biden administration gives the Commerce Department the power to create broadband cards, thereby increasing the FCC.
My legislative colleagues handed my bill, Senate Bill 28 to the governor’s office for signature, with bipartisan support and without a single “no” vote.
In response to aggressive opposition from the California Cable Television Association, the Assembly and Senate have almost unanimously supported SB 28, which allows the state to obtain important details about digital network infrastructure by modifying a 15 year old law called digital video. Infrastructure and Competition Act of 2006. This law authorizes the CPUC to grant a lucrative 10-year franchise to companies like Comcast, Charter and AT&T to build digital networks across the state for the provision of paid video services. .
SB 28 allows the state to request granular data from these companies, such as specific connection locations, and provides CPUC with a customer service review of these pay video services.
Since only five franchisees provide broadband services to over 97% of Californians using the exact same digital networks that provide paid video services, it’s important to collect granular data from these providers.
These companies know where their networks provide access and where they don’t. This is imperative because today, even if they connect to one place in a census tract, they consider the entire sector to be served. SB 28 puts an end to this manipulation of obscured data by requiring granular network information – important transparency.
These cable companies must meet the obligations they entered into in 2006 with the enactment of the Digital Video Infrastructure and Competition Act, in order to provide advanced digital services in a fair manner, without discrimination on the basis of income.
Getting granular data is the first step. The Digital Video Infrastructure and Competition Act originally left the resolution of customer service complaints to local governments and gave franchising power to the CPUC. Instead, SB 28 empowers the CPUC to work with local governments to address customer service complaints.
Combining granular data on digital networks with the ability to fix customer service gives CPUC an active role in assessing and ensuring that no Californian should face discrimination based on income – discrimination against the poor.
For 15 years, private companies have carefully chosen the places where they build important infrastructure. For 15 years, the CPUC held a ministerial function approving these important franchises that have made it possible to build a robust digital network – a basic infrastructure – without transparency or accountability.
SB 28 gives the CPUC two important tools for forcing transparency and ensuring accountability at a time when the state is investing to ensure that no Californian is living on the wrong side of the digital divide. Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing on SB 28 will ensure that vital infrastructure, owned and operated by giants like Comcast, will not remain shrouded in mystery. It’s an important first step in ensuring that digital connections to California homes and businesses serve everyone.
State Senator Anna Caballero, a Democrat from Salinas, represents California’s 12th Senate District.