SACRAMENTO, CA – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) opposes legislation sponsored by AT&T, AB 2749 (Quirk-Silva), that would undermine California’s historic broadband infrastructure law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last July.
The bill would amend the newly created grant program for funding broadband access in unserved areas by prohibiting the California Public Utilities Commission from requiring providers to offer affordable services to all residents, as well as by forcing the state to treat AT&T's inferior wireless offerings on equal terms as 21st-century-ready fiber infrastructure. Such provisions run contrary to established goals of the Biden Administration’s infrastructure effort that center on delivering affordable fiber broadband to rural Americans.
“At a time when everyone is suffering from record inflation, legislation that will raise people’s prices for broadband infrastructure must be flatly rejected,” said Ernesto Falcon, EFF Senior Legislative Counsel. “California made a historic investment to deliver 21st-century fiber infrastructure to all residents with passage of the state’s infrastructure law last year. Local county governments have already started charting out their infrastructure plans to connect everyone to fiber while committing to affordable prices. AT&T, which opposed the law from the beginning, is now trying to convince legislators to unwind that promise while padding their profits with taxpayer dollars by setting monopoly prices in rural markets.”
Additional concerns EFF has with AB 2749 include:
- The anti-rural-fiber and anti-affordability provisions have received no hearing prior to consideration on the Assembly floor. These new provisions were recently added to the bill and only made public on May 19, 2022; the original legislation simply had expedited process requirements for grant review but included no programmatic changes.
- The legislation’s “low-income” exemption for affordability is woefully insufficient. If enacted as written, it would mean a rural family of four making more than $55,000 a year will be subject to uncontrolled monopoly pricing with infrastructure that the taxpayer already paid to build.
- The legislation undermines the Department of Commerce NTIA’s prioritization of fiber infrastructure by requiring that wireless plans, such as the ones AT&T offers, be included for grants. Current state policy would give preference to fiber infrastructure in rural areas while federal policy explicitly states that only fiber infrastructure will deliver future-proof access.