Cal Cities urges lawmakers to invest $3 billion for broadband in the state budget
Protecting and modernizing critical infrastructure is one of the League of California Cities' 2021 Strategic Advocacy Priorities.
The timing for United Infrastructure Week, May 10-14, is especially appropriate as it aligns with Cal Cities Legislative Action Days, where city officials step up their lobbying efforts with state lawmakers, including the need for infrastructure funding.
Cal Cities is advocating for the investment of at least $3 billion for broadband infrastructure to be included in the state budget. These investments would support the expansion and related infrastructure upgrades needed in unserved and underserved communities to help cities catalyze broadband projects statewide. Granting Cal Cities’ budget request, coupled with the investments from the federal government, would make significant headway in achieving the state's broadband goals.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, both state and federal governments have emphasized that infrastructure remained a priority and city officials are pressing hard to ensure those stated priorities translate into funding and resources for city infrastructure projects.
State Infrastructure Resources Update
A comprehensive broadband package failed to reach the Governor's desk at the end of the 2020 legislative session, disappointing many as COVID-19 drew increased attention to California's digital divide. In response, several broadband bills directly impacting cities have been introduced this year:
- AB 14 (Aguiar-Curry) Communication. Broadband Services. California Advanced Services Fund.
SB 4 (Gonzalez) Communications. California Advanced Services Fund. Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program. Surcharges.
These measures would reform the existing California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) surcharge, retooling it to play a much larger role in closing the digital divide. Specifically, these measures would continue to fund the CASF beyond its original 2022 sunset date, make it easier for local governments to apply for these grants, expand the definition of "unserved" so more communities are eligible for funding, and raise speed requirements for new networks.
- AB 34 (Muratsuchi) Communications. Broadband for All Act of 2022
This measure would place a $10 billion general obligation bond measure on the November 8, 2022, ballot. Funding would be allocated to cities, counties, special districts, school districts, and other local government agencies to build their own broadband networks.
Action: SUPPORT IN CONCEPT
- AB 537 (Quirk) Communications. Wireless Telecommunications and Broadband Facilities.
This measure would implement the FCC’s adopted regulations on broadband permit shot clocks into state law. Cal Cities has requested amendments to ensure consistency with the federal requirements.
Action: Watch – Requested Amendments
- SB 378 (Gonzalez) Local Government. Broadband Infrastructure Development Project Permit Processing. Microtrenching Permit Processing Ordinance.
This measure would require local governments to allow microtrenching for the installation of underground fiber if the installation in the microtrench is limited to fiber. Cal Cities has requested amendments to ensure consistency with the federal requirements.
Action: Watch – Requested Amendments
- SB 556 (Dodd) Street Light Poles, Traffic Signal Poles: Small Wireless Facilities Attachments.
This measure would directly conflict with the FCC’s adopted regulations on wireless services deployment. Specifically, it would require local governments to make space available on streetlight poles, traffic signal poles, utility poles, and other public infrastructure to telecommunications providers. SB 556 would also create ambiguity in the fees local governments can charge for access to their infrastructure.
The American Jobs Plan, outlined by the White House early this year, is an ambitious proposal to invest approximately $2 trillion this decade to address infrastructure needs. Cal Cities anticipates the introduction of various proposals in Congress to guide these investments. Cal Cities is currently assessing cities' infrastructure needs to advocate Congress effectively and will continue to provide more information as it becomes available.
In addition to the American Jobs Plan proposal, the recently passed American Rescue Plan included significant investments in infrastructure. The $8.3 billion in local recovery funds headed to California cities through the ARP can be used to provide broadband services to unserved and underserved households and businesses.
Additionally, the American Rescue Plan includes $10 billion for the new Coronavirus Capital Improvements Projects Fund, which will help deliver critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options in response to COVID-19.
The plan also includes $7 billion for the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which will be distributed through the Federal Communications Commission to reimburse schools and libraries for the purchase of remote learning devices and internet connections for students. As the U.S. Department of the Treasury guidance is finalized for the American Rescue Plan, Cal Cities will release more information on the eligible uses of these funds.
Congress continues to work on surface transportation reauthorization, and Cal Cities is working with the National League of Cities on transportation needs for cities. The surface transportation program was up for reauthorization in September 2020 and was renewed for one year. Congress has until September 30 of this year to act on a new bill — or pass another extension.
These are just some of the exciting opportunities in the infrastructure space this year. Looking beyond Infrastructure Week, Cal Cities will continue to advocate for protecting and modernizing critical infrastructure while maintaining local authority.