Santa Cruz rail offers a dig once chance for broadband

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Another broadband opportunity in Santa Cruz is opening up. The county Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) is offering the use of its 32-mile railroad right of way to interested utility companies, including broadband and telecommunications service providers.

The route runs more or less near the coastline along the length of the county, from Watsonville to Davenport, going through the cities of Capitola and Santa Cruz. About half the population of Santa Cruz County lives within a mile of the right of way. Work is planned on a few segments of the line, particularly in the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville, and up coast towards Davenport, as a recreational trail is developed…

The RTC is interested in leasing this right of way to utility companies and municipal districts whose use would be compatible with the planned uses of this right of way.

Currently, the rail line is being used for recreational and freight rail service and in the future may be used for passenger rail service. The rail trail portion of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail is planned to be built along the length of the rail line corridor. There are a few segments of the rail trail that will be constructed over the next few years. These sections are indicated on the attached map. The RTC intends to follow a “dig once” policy before the paved trail is built next to the tracks. Once the trail is built, the cost of adding underground utilities will rise considerably.

If you’re interested, you can contact the Santa Cruz County RTC directly. The idea of using the rail right of way for broadband was first floated a couple of years ago at the Civinomicon conference in Santa Cruz.

Mr. Robot offers a field guide to the phonies of the geek world

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A Holden Caufield for the 21st century.

Dork.

Hollywood’s latest excursion into geekdom is Mr. Robot, a new series on the USA Network. I only saw the first episode, but the memes and tropes presented have a certain ring of truth. One of the funniest was the observation that the fastest way to identify a techno-wanker is by the Blackberry he displays…

There he is, Terry Colby, the CTO. Even though he’s the head technology guy at one of the biggest companies in the world, he owns a Blackberry. So this is it right here. But also looks like he doesn’t see a terminal very often.

He’s not a techie. He’s a moron. An arrogant moron. The worst kind.

Oh, hi.

Tyrell Wellick. I’m Senior Vice President, Technology.

Elliot. Just a tech.

Don’t be so humble. You know, I started out exactly where you are, and to be honest, you know, my heart is still there. So I see you’re running Gnome. You know, I’m actually on KDE myself. I know this desktop environment is supposed to be better but you know what they say. Old habits they die hard.

An executive running Linux with…

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I’m an executive. I mean why am I even running Linux? Again old habits. It’s gonna be fun working with you. I should join the rest of the group. Bonsoir, Elliot.

But it’s not just the good guys who run Linux, or so it seems at this early stage in the storyline. Wellick is the evil new techno chief at Evil Corp, so maybe guys with ties who loudly lick their Linux chops should be viewed with suspicion. Or maybe just anyone who wears a tie.

Federal justice department has no problem with AT&T’s takeover of DirecTv

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Move along. Nothing to see here.

AT&T’s purchase of DirecTv is about to get the green light, without any inconvenient conditions, at least from the federal justice department. That’s the word from Bloomberg, which has a pretty good track record on this kind of reporting. According to a story by Todd Shields and David McLaughlin

Justice Department officials closed their investigation without demanding any conditions, such as promises about fair treatment of Internet traffic, or demanding the sale of business units, said the person who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

The final decision about the review rests with the antitrust division’s leadership.

That’s one hurdle. The other is the Federal Communications Commission, where

The companies have said they will expand broadband coverage. AT&T had promised for three years to honor FCC open-Internet restrictions established in 2010. Since the promise, the FCC has set new rules, and AT&T has joined legal challenges to them.

That expansion of broadband coverage is still notional, at best. In a heavily redacted filing with the FCC, AT&T says if the DirecTv purchase is approved it’ll deploy “fiber-to-the-premises” (FTTP) to 11.7 million “customer locations” and implies that figure is two million more than it would have been without the deal. Given AT&T’s preference for deploying fiber to office buildings in dense and lucrative central business districts, you can arguably rack up a lot of customer locations without going very far.

It would be helpful if the FCC required AT&T to tell it and us exactly what that means.

Move at the FCC to unlink rural broadbad subsdies from telephone service

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Wouldn’t it be easier to just Skype?

Federal Communications Commission rules require any service provider that applies for broadband subsidies under universal service fund programs also offer telephone service. It’s not because of any law of nature – the California Advanced Services Fund functions quite well without screwing around with dial tone requirements – but rather simply the result of bureaucratic inertia.

The FCC’s decision to bring broadband service and infrastructure under common carrier rules hinted at broadband-only subsidies. Now, commissioner Ajit Pai is proposing to formally change subsidy requirements to allow pure Internet service providers to apply. It will even benefit traditional rural telephone companies, Pai argues, because it will allow them to satisfy cord cutters without losing federal support dollars…

On one hand, they can offer stand-alone broadband—which urban consumers have and rural consumers want—and lose universal service support. On the other, they can deny consumers the option of an Internet-only service, and risk them dropping service altogether (which they increasingly are). The net result is that rural carriers hold back investment because they are unsure if they can deploy the next-generation services that consumers are demanding.

Pai correctly notes that this concept has received bipartisan support in the U.S. congress. And he refrains from slathering on republican talking points, instead going back to the kind of usefully geeky detail that he’s quite good at. It’s a constructive attempt to move the universal service discussion away from the childish partisan sniping that’s marked the debate over common carrier rules for broadband for the past few months.

Texas regulators put Google Fiber in the fast lane

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It seemed odd that San Antonio wasn’t on the list earlier this year when Google announced four new cities for its fiber to the home initiative. The city bent over backwards making Google welcome and it’s a short drive – less than a six pack, as they measure such things in Texas – from its current base in Austin.

Now it turns out that Google has been keeping its eye on the Alamo City. A story by Mark Reagan in the San Antonio Current says that Google asked for and quickly received permission to expand its fiber system from the Public Utility Commission of Texas. The story quotes a Google spokesman as saying

San Antonio has been great to work with as we’ve explored bringing Google Fiber to the city, and this amendment to our state franchise is an important next step. There’s still a lot of work to do, but we hope to provide an update about whether we can bring Fiber to San Antonio soon.

If you’re still wondering why Google is showing more love to Texas than its home state of California, consider this: the application to expand its service area was filed with the Texas PUC on 21 May 2015 (not 5 June as reported in the Current article) and was approved three weeks later on 10 June 2015.

As someone who has done business with the California Public Utilities Commission, I gotta say the first thing I did was download the original documents and check to make sure the filing date wasn’t really 2014. Or 2013. I’ve worked on a couple of projects that involved getting this kind of certification in California, and it took two years, not three weeks.

There are times when California’s lengthy – some would argue thorough – review processes are valuable. The investigation into Comcast’s now defunct plan to acquire Charter and Time Warner systems here is a case in point. But most decisions are nowhere near as fraught and spending months and years following a byzantine process for routine matters only detracts from the CPUC’s – or other agencies’ – ability to pursue truly serious business.

Santa Cruz will be Silicon Valley’s first fully fiber city

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Homes and businesses in Santa Cruz are one step closer to full fiber-to-the-premise broadband service. The Santa Cruz city council voted unanimously last week to move ahead with negotiating an FTTP/FTTH partnership with a local independent Internet service provider, Cruzio. As envisioned, the city would own – and finance – the network, Cruzio would operate it and the two would work together to build it.

Cruzio’s proposal to the city also leaves the door open for other ISPs to join the project – that’ll be one of many details that the forthcoming negotiations will address.

The cost to build a fiber network that would reach every premise in the City of Santa Cruz will be about $52 million, according to an estimate prepared by Columbia Telecommunications Corporation. That includes the citywide distribution network, laterals and drops to reach homes and businesses, and the electronics on both ends needed to run it.

There’s significant risk in any municipal FTTH venture, but the Santa Cruz project has several unique aspects that should work to reduce the uncertainty. First and foremost, it involves a partnership with a longstanding and successful incumbent service provider. Cruzio is one of the largest surviving independent ISPs in the California, has been delivering Internet service in Santa Cruz for 25 years and has about 3,000 subscribers inside the city limits alone – roughly 15% of the market.

There’s also Santa Cruz’s dual nature: a Californian beach community fueled by Silicon Valley’s economy and entrepreneurial vibe. Silicon Valley boasts many tech savvy and affluent cities, but none have embarked on a full scale FTTH project yet. Santa Cruz, with one eye on high tech innovation and the other on a high quality lifestyle, could well be in the sweet spot that makes it possible.

A lot of questions still need answering, not least the details of the project’s financing, which nominally would involve city-sponsored bonds

Constructing Santa Cruz Fiber requires the issuance of revenue lease bonds to cover the capital investment as well as two years of debt service while the project is being constructed and brought online.

At this point, no commitments have been made, except that Cruzio has pledged up to $45,000 to pay for the costs of getting to a final operating and financing plan, which will need the approval of the city council and, likely, voters. If all goes to schedule, Santa Cruz’s fiber network could be up and running in three years.

Tellus Venture Associates is assisting the City of Santa Cruz with its FTTH project. I’m not a disinterested observer. Take it for what it’s worth.

City of Santa Cruz fiber project staff report

Cruzio FTTH proposal to the City of Santa Cruz

CTC costs estimates for a Santa Cruz FTTH system

Charter won’t promise to offer broadband in redlined communities

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This isn’t where the other 99% live.

If you live in the bottom 1% of Charter Communications service area, you’re not getting broadband access or, indeed, anything other than poor analog video service from the company. The message from Charter is those redlined communities – among the poorest and most isolated in California – won’t be upgraded to 21st century digital systems anytime soon.

Charter tries to weasel its way around that issue in its initial filing with the Federal Communications Commission, as it seeks permission to buy Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. It starts out by saying “Charter is 99% digital” and making an impressive sounding promise to upgrade any substandard systems it buys…

New Charter will invest in an all-digital system in Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks’ service areas, completing the digitization within 30 months of closing, thereby freeing up capacity for more high definition and on-demand channels and increased broadband speeds.

But in a footnote, Charter gives itself 1% wiggle room on that promise. Just like it gives itself 1% wiggle room on delivering on its all digital pitch in its current network.

It seems like a tiny gap – and Charter offers no evidence that its digital divide is in fact that small – but if you live in one of its analog-only service areas, it’s a 100% failure, not 1% or whatever it actually is. That includes several in California’s Salinas Valley, where 100,000 people lack access to Internet service that meets minimum standards set by either the California Public Utilities Commission or the FCC. Charter redlines those communities because its expected return on investment isn’t high enough.

In effect, Charter is asking the FCC for permission to extend its redlining practices to communities served by Time Warner and Bright House. The FCC should say no.

Frontier’s ability to deliver, particularly broadband, will be evaluated by CPUC

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Frontier Communications’ proposed purchase of Verizon’s wireline telephone systems in California is under review by the California Public Utilities Commission, which has to decide if the deal is in the public interest. Catherine Sandoval is the commissioner assigned to lead the review, and [she’s laid out a broad basis for doing it](), stating that it’s not just the interests of Verizon’s current customers that matter, instead “at the least, we must be able to say that the proposed transaction is overall net beneficial in its impact on the various affected constituencies.

She listed several criteria for deciding that question, including Frontier’s ability to contend with the decaying state of Verizon’s copper networks and the overall effect of the deal on broadband service in California

  • What is the current physical condition of the Verizon landline
    network?

  • How capable is Frontier of absorbing 2.2 million additional
    customers? Does Frontier have adequate staff and facilities to scale up to the necessary size?

  • How compatible are the Frontier and Verizon systems and
    equipment, including…IP-enabled and broadband infrastructure systems and equipment.

  • What is the impact of the transaction on competition for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and broadband services?

Frontier depends entirely on wireline systems – unlike Verizon, it doesn’t have high margin mobile networks to nurture instead – and it has a history of pursuing upgrades in the handful of Californian systems it owns. But in order to turnaround Verizon’s systems it has to up its game in California: it would go from a couple hundred thousand customers to a couple million. Frontier needs to detail its plans for doing so and demonstrate its ability to execute.

CPUC will wait another month to vote on establishing broadband jurisdiction

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The California Public Utilities Commission kicked the Comcast can down the road a month. It was supposed to take up two competing proposals for closing out Comcast’s failed purchase of Time Warner’s cable systems and market swaps with Charter this week, but the decision was pushed off to the commission’s 23 July 2015 meeting. A third alternative is also expected to be on the agenda that day.

The options in front of the CPUC are…

The commission should take option #2 – establish its right to consider broadband impacts in its deliberations and say that monopoly (or, in some cases, duopoly) control of the broadband service that’s available to the vast majority of Californian homes is unacceptable. With three similar, if smaller, deals on the table – Charter buying Time Warner and Bright House, Frontier taking over Verizon’s wireline systems – it’s an important decision to take.

Suddenlink tries to avoid going down the same regulatory review path as Comcast

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The purchase of Suddenlink Communications – the seventh largest cable operator in the U.S. and a significant video and Internet service provider in rural California – by a European company, Altice, is officially under review by the California Public Utilities Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.

As is typical with the initial applications, the companies are claiming there’s not much to worry about and approval should be quick and simple. Suddenlink (which is really a mash up of many corporations, mostly called Cequel or Cebridge or similar) is telling the CPUC that it’s really a teeny tiny deal

Cebridge CA currently offers [telecommunications services] to schools and libraries in California under the federal E-rate program. In addition, the company provides wholesale telecommunications services and point-to-point transport services to a limited number of non-residential customers. Cebridge CA offers those services in several areas of California including Eureka, Arcata, Fortuna, Blue Lake, Ferndale, Trinidad, Rio Dell, Truckee, Auburn, Foresthill, Bishop, Mammoth Lakes, Blythe, Shaver Lake and [Fort] Ord. Overall, Cebridge CA provides certificated telecommunications services to approximately a dozen customers and has annual intrastate revenues from these services of less than $500,000…

As noted above, the transfer of control of Cebridge CA to Altice, as well as the underlying Transaction, will have no adverse effect on any California customers. It will not result in any change in the operations, rates, terms or conditions of service, or the construction or transfer of any facilities…In short, the proposed Transaction will be seamless and transparent to Cebridge CA’s California customers.

Of course, there’s more to Suddenlink’s business than a dozen regulated telecommunications customers. If – and it’s a big if – the CPUC follows the same logic it pursued in the recently deceased Comcast – Time Warner – Charter deal, it will also evaluate the impact of selling Suddenlink to Altice on the broadband services market in California.