Calif. Legislature Greenlights Grants for Fixed Wireless Broadband
California legislators voted to require wireless eligibility for state broadband funds on the last day of their session Thursday. Wireless is a “reliable substitute … when it’s impossible to use fiber,” said Assembly Communications Committee Vice Chair Jim Patterson (R) in an interview Friday. The Utility Reform Network (TURN) prefers fiber and remains opposed.
In the legislature’s final week, state lawmakers also passed broadband bills meant to streamline permitting, increase digital equity, update mapping rules and make public land available for deployment. And lawmakers supported giving consumers new rights to repair electronic devices and delete personal data held by brokers (see 2309080031, 2309120050 and 2309140007). Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) must still decide whether to sign or veto the bills.
State senators voted 31-6 Thursday to pass AB-1065, which would explicitly authorize wireless broadband providers to apply for California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) federal funding account grants, including money from the broadband, equity, access and deployment (BEAD) program. The Assembly, which previously passed the bill, voted 76-0 Thursday to concur with the Senate’s amendments. One Senate change clarified that the bill would only change the California Public Utilities Commission’s program rules on a going-forward basis. The wireless industry supported the bill.
Impressed by fixed wireless demonstrations, Patterson thinks concerns that wireless technology is unreliable are “hyperbole,” said the AB-1065 sponsor. Wireless projects will still have to meet state requirements including 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds, he noted. It’s “fine to have the aspiration” for fiber, but there has to be a practical offramp,” said the Republican. "What we’re trying to do here is to provide another option to achieve the aspiration without running [into] some of the high-cost risks and the inability of those who are the grantees to actually finish the projects because they're running into explosive costs."
California has “a big chunk of money,” but “whether we have enough is questionable and whether we can get it out in time is also a question,” said Patterson. The vice chair pointed to the state’s 5-year BEAD action plan finding that the state’s $4 billion in combined state and federal funding won’t be enough to spread fiber to all unserved areas. Needing to put fiber underground in areas with high fire risk will add to costs, while permitting processes could slow deployment, he added. Patterson said he’s gotten no signals that Newsom has problems with AB-1065.
The Wireless ISP Association applauded legislators for making wireless eligible for grants. California recognized in the five-year plan that it’s billions of dollars short of reaching everyone with fiber, said WISPA State Advocacy Manager Steve Schwerbel: By mixing fixed wireless with fiber, “California can radically minimize this funding shortfall.”
“This bill is the wireless industry's latest attempt at rent seeking,” countered TURN Telecommunications Regulatory Attorney Alexandra Green. If Newsom signs, the bill “could greatly complicate” implementing the state’s federal funding account and “relegate unserved and underserved communities to unreliable internet service that will not meet their long-term needs,” she said.
Permitting, Privacy Bills Pass
The Senate voted 40-0 Thursday to concur with the Assembly on an industry-backed bill (SB-387) to let the state lease public land at submarket rates for broadband deployment. And the Senate voted 31-9 to concur on SB-362, a privacy bill that would allow consumers to delete data collected on them by brokers. The Assembly passed both bills Wednesday.
The data broker bill would require the California Privacy Protection Agency by Jan.. 1, 2026, to set up a "one-stop deletion mechanism" online that lets consumers send a request to delete their data to every data broker operating in the state, said privacy attorney Owen Davis on a Husch Blackwell webinar Thursday. "Think of it as like a do-not-call registry." Data processers would have to process requests every 45 days starting on Aug. 1, 2026. The bill would also require data brokers to register with the CPPA.
Earlier in the week, the legislature passed AB-965 on broadband permitting. Widely supported by the telecom industry, the bill would allow simultaneous processing of multiple broadband permit applications for similar project sites under a single permit and require local governments to decide applications within a reasonable time. AB-965 "will allow broadband project permits to move forward as efficiently as possible, so that Californians can quickly benefit from high-speed internet access,” a Crown Castle spokesperson said. Local government groups had fought AB-965, but many removed their opposition after some Senate amendments. The League of California Cities is neutral on the bill passed by the legislature, a spokesperson said.
Another bill passed to develop a digital equity bill of rights (AB-414) “represents a good set of principles but lacks any enforcement mechanism,” said TURN Telecommunications Policy Analyst Leo Fitzpatrick. The consumer group earlier raised concerns with another approved bill (AB-41) that aims to tighten digital equity requirements in the state’s video franchise law (see 2308170044). USTelecom and the California Broadband and Video Association ended up neutral on that bill. Failure of AB-662 to limit CPUC rules for the BEAD program (see 2309050076) relieved TURN, said Fitzpatrick. “This is a big win for all too often ignored community voices to have a say in how the state designs its BEAD Program.”
TURN applauded passage of a bill to update mapping rules. Under AB-286, maps will “present a much better picture of the broadband speeds actually received by Californians,” said TURN Telecommunications Policy Director Regina Costa. “Information about the speeds that is verified by customers will be invaluable for further efforts to tackle the digital divide at both federal and state levels.”
CTIA and CTA declined to comment on California passing a right-to-repair bill. A Sept. 12 Senate floor analysis showed that the associations opposed SB-244 even as Apple and HP joined repair advocates like iFixit in supporting the bill. The industry associations have historically been opposed but have seen big OEM defections, Repair.org Executive Director Gay Gordon-Byrne told us. “Apple is almost certainly controlling the narrative.” Apple didn’t comment.
The repair advocate flagged some possible flaws in California’s proposed law. SB-244 seems to include a loophole that would allow original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) “to provide ‘same or better’ replacements rather than be required to actually make repair materials and parts available,” emailed Gordon-Byrne: That type of allowance reduced the effectiveness of the California Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. “Rather than build out a repair capability,” OEMs shipped replacements even if they were much different, under that predecessor law, she said. Also, while California’s bill might have broader applicability than New York state’s right-to-repair law, it’s not quite as clear about what’s included, she said.