SB 28 would provide two important tools to force transparency and ensure accountability from broadband internet providers.
By Anna Caballero, Special to CalMatters
State Sen. Anna Caballero, a Democrat from Salinas, represents California’s 12th Senate District.
If we learned anything from COVID, it is that high-speed internet service is vital. We need broadband for commerce, education, health, social connections and entertainment.
All Californians need access to real high-speed internet, similar to our need for energy and water. However, one thing remains clear: the state does not know enough about broadband access, or the quality of services.
With energy and water, the state knows each connected residential and business location and the quality of that service delivery. If water at your house runs brown, the state can take corrective action with the service provider.
In contrast to broadband service, the state does not know each connected location, where connections exist and knows nothing about the quality of service. This is because broadband providers give census-tract level data to the Federal Communications Commission, which provides a copy to the California Public Utilities Commission. The data is so deficient that the Biden administration is giving the Department of Commerce authority to create broadband maps, augmenting the FCC.
My legislative colleagues delivered my bill, Senate Bill 28 to the governor’s desk 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 nearly unanimously supported SB 28, which provides a path for the state to gain important detail about digital network infrastructure by amending a 15-year-old statute called the Digital Video Infrastructure and Competition Act of 2006. That statute authorizes the CPUC to issue a lucrative statewide 10-year franchise to companies like Comcast, Charter and AT&T to build digital networks across the state for the delivery of pay video services.
SB 28 enables the state to request granular data from these companies, like specific connection locations, and provides the CPUC with customer service review of these pay video services.
Since just five franchisees deliver broadband services to more than 97% of Californians using the exact same digital networks that deliver pay video services, gathering granular data from these providers is important.
These companies know where their networks provide access, and where they don’t. This is imperative because today, even if they connect to just one location in a census tract, they deem the entire tract as served. SB 28 ends this obfuscated data manipulation by requiring granular network information – important transparency.
These cable companies need to meet the obligations they made in 2006 when Digital Video Infrastructure and Competition Act was enacted, to provide advanced digital services equitably, without income-based discrimination.
Gaining granular data is the first step. The Digital Video Infrastructure and Competition Act originally left all customer service complaint resolution with local governments and placed the franchising power with the CPUC. Instead, SB 28 empowers the CPUC to work with local governments to address customer service complaints.
Combining granular data about the digital networks with the ability to redress customer service gives the CPUC an active role to assess and ensure that no Californian has to face income-based discrimination – discrimination against poor people.
For 15 years, private companies have cherry picked where they build important infrastructure. For 15 years, the CPUC has served a ministerial function approving these important franchises that have enabled a robust digital network – core infrastructure – to be built without transparency or accountability.
SB 28 gives the CPUC two important tools to force transparency and ensure accountability at a time when the state is investing to make sure no Californian lives on the wrong side of the digital divide. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature 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 to make sure the digital connections to California homes and businesses serve everybody.
State Sen. Anna Caballero has also written about how to house people and achieve California’s climate goals, how legislation would hurt small businesses that have turned to online sales, and about rethinking work and life in lessons learned from COVID-19.