Trump touts broadband lipstick in Iowa, but will he put it on a pig?

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Broadband is now explicitly included in president Donald Trump’s planned trillion dollar infrastructure program. Up until now, his focus has been on big civil engineering projects, like roads, bridges and dams. But Trump made it clear in a speech in Iowa earlier this week that telecoms infrastructure will be included…

If we continue to train our workers in these new technologies, then we will usher in a new era of prosperity for American agriculture and for the American farming family.

We must also ensure that these students have the broadband Internet access they need in order to succeed and thrive in this new and very modern and very changed economy and world. That is why I will be including a provision in our infrastructure proposal — $1 trillion proposal — you’ll be seeing it very shortly — to promote and foster enhanced broadband access for rural America also. We know that Wall Street wants it very badly, but you know what else? The farmers also want it. And you’re going to have it.

The big questions, though, are what kind of broadband infrastructure and who is going to build and operate it?

Trump is not a details guy, particularly when the issue involves something that doesn’t interest him personally. He’s shown no particular passion for broadband development or the nitty gritty of telecoms policy. Which means that he’ll be relying on his advisors to come up with a plan to improve broadband availability in rural America.

Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai is one of those key advisors and a policy maker in his own right. He’s been very specific about how he thinks any rural broadband development subsidies should be spent: channel it to incumbents via existing programs, like the Connect America Fund, that set low speed standards – 10 Mbps download/1 Mpbs upload – which can be achieved by tweaking decades old technology. Instead of replacing it.

It would be a tragedy if that mindset prevails, but so far AT&T, Frontier Communications and other incumbents have successfully pushed that message both in Washington, D.C. and in Sacramento, where lawmakers are lining up to reduce California’s minimum broadband speed standards. It’s good that Trump is talking about broadband, but not if it means stranding rural (and inner city) communities with 1990s service levels.

California cities meet wave of mobile carrier land grabs

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I’ve been involved in several meetings between mobile infrastructure companies and staff from various California cities over the past couple of months. There’s a new gold rush going on now. And mobile carriers – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint – are running around trying to do deals with cities ahead of 5G and pre-5G network upgrades. They want to put “small cells” on street lights and other city-owned vertical assets. Deals which might be preempted in their favor by SB 649 anyway.

What they want is to lock up real estate years ahead of actual construction. The networks won’t be fully built for 10 to 20 years, but if they can claim vertical assets, right of way and other prime locations now, they’ll be in a controlling position in any given city for a couple of decades.

5G networks rely on lots of small, short-range cell sites. Short range means you can have a lot more cells in a given area, which means the radio frequency bandwidth (also known as spectrum) can be re-used over and over.

For example, suppose you had one big cell tower that covered an entire city, which used all the spectrum a carrier has, and that amount of spectrum had a total capacity of 300 Mbps (e.g. you might have 300 people each watching their own 1 Mbps video stream at the same time). Then you replace it with 100 small cells, each with a 100 Mbps capacity and arranged so that the particular frequencies each uses doesn’t interfere or overlap with its neighbor.

All of a sudden you’ve gone from 300 Mbps total city capacity to 10,000 Mbps. That’s a too-simple example, but the principle applies.

There is no 5G technology standard currently, although there might be by the end of the year. Even so, it’ll be three to five years before the equipment is developed and proven, and then put into mass production and deployed on a large scale. In the meantime, these companies are trying to lay a claim to lots of sites for later, while using a few now that rely on current 4G technology (although they play egregious word games with that).

It’s a good idea for cities to work with mobile carriers and infrastructure companies, but it’s essential to do it in a way that creates a level playing field for everyone – incumbent mobile carriers and their vendors as well as the new ventures and technologies that are on the way – and doesn’t allow one player to lock up street lights, right of way and other real estate they won’t use for years. Given the level of local preemption activity going on in Sacramento and Washington, it makes sense for local governments to use the leverage they have while they have it.

Charter moves fast where fiber competition looms

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But is it fast enough?

If you want to steer telco and cable company capital investment toward your community, apply competitive pressure, preferably with a full scale fiber to the home project. Once again, that lesson has been learned as the simple and reliable mechanics of microeconomic theory have pushed a major cable company to accelerate spending in an area it has long ignored.

Charter Communications is required to upgrade the antique analog cable systems it has long maintained in redlined communities. That’s one of the conditions attached to the California Public Utilities Commission’s approval of its purchase of Time Warner and Bright House cable systems in the state. Charter’s deadlines for doing so range from two to three years, with most of its territory in California due for digital service within two and half years of the merger’s approval. That happened nearly a year ago, so the time remaining is more like one to two years.

So who goes to the top of Charter’s priority list? According to claims it has filed with the CPUC regarding where broadband subsidy dollars should be spent, the community on Charter’s fast track is one in San Bernardino County that’s been targeted by a competitor…

Charter agreed to rebuild its broadband footprint in both Phelan and Prunedale/Aromas/Salinas—two of the priority areas identified in the White Paper. In Phelan, Charter completed its rebuild in December 2016, revitalizing its plant and improving broadband services available in 250 census blocks identified in the White Paper as high impact. Similarly, Charter is scheduled to complete the rebuild of its plant in Prunedale/Aromas/Salinas no later than May 2019.

Phelan, where Race Communications is in the hunt for a California Advanced Services Fund subsidy for an FTTH system, was upgraded within months of the CPUC’s order taking effect. In the northern Monterey County neighborhoods around Prunedale and Aromas, Charter is happy to wait the full three years.

It’s uncertain whether Charter’s plans are enough to knock Monterey County off of the CPUC’s bang for the buck list. But it is crystal clear that the faster build happened in the community where Charter faces the bigger competitor.

AT&T fiber redlines low income communities, U.C. Berkeley study finds

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Where high income households are thick on the ground, AT&T builds out fiber to the home systems, but does minimal upgrades for middle income areas and leaves low income communities with 1990s-style legacy DSL or nothing at all. That’s the top line conclusion from a study done by U.C. Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

  • The median household income of California communities with access to AT&T’s fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network is $94,208. This exceeds by $32,297 the $61,911 median household income for all California households in the AT&T wireline footprint.
  • In contrast, the median household income of California communities for whom the most advanced broadband technology available from AT&T is its slower U-verse fiber-to-the-neighborhood (FTTN) network is $67,021, which is $27,187 (28.9 percent) lower than the median household income of fiber-to-the-home households.
  • Approximately one-quarter (27.6 percent) of households — about 2.7 million households —in AT&T’s California footprint are stuck with slow DSL. The median household income for California households for whom DSL is the most advanced broadband technology available from AT&T is $53,186, which is $41,022 (43.5 percent) lower than the median household income of fiber-to-the-home households.

There’s also a distinct urban/rural divide in AT&T’s broadband infrastructure deployment strategy. While metropolitan areas get fiber and VDSL upgrades, rural areas are ignored. According to the study, almost no homes in 14 rural counties have access to AT&T broadband at the FCC’s minimum standards of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds and one-third lack access at the CPUC’s minimum of 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up. In its overall service territory in California, 252,000 homes do not have access to AT&T broadband service at all.

In many respects, the report’s findings are no surprise. AT&T has been very clear that fiber infrastructure would only be going into high potential areas and that it plans to rip out copper networks in rural California and replace them with wireless service.

The study recommends that policymakers, and the California legislature in particular, should demand greater accountability from AT&T and promote more equitable high speed broadband deployment. Unfortunately, the California assembly has not taken the study’s findings or recommendations to heart. It just voted to lower California’s minimum broadband speeds, specifically to accommodate the substandard technology that AT&T maintains in rural and lower income communities.

FTTH expansion proposed for Riverside County desert communities

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Anza Electric Cooperative wants to expand its fiber-to-the-home system in southwestern Riverside County. After being awarded a $2.7 million FTTH infrastructure grant from the California Advanced Services Fund in 2015, Anza used its existing electric plant as the backbone for a fiber network aimed at reaching 3,800 homes in its service territory.

Now, it’s asking the California Public Utilities Commission for another $2.2 million, to reach 1,200 more homes and "several businesses", and provide free service to fire stations and the Ronald McDonald camp for kids with cancer According to the public version of its grant application summary

Connect Anza will deploy a fiber optic cable on existing poles and rights of way and establish a network of sufficient capacity to establish high speed, quality internet service for Anza Electric Cooperatives (AEC’s) existing service territory covering over 500 square miles, located wholly within western Riverside County. The area encompasses the communities of Mountain Center, Pinyon Pines, and Garner Valley which totals approximately 200 square miles of our service territory…

Connect Anza, as an integral part of AEC, will provide reliable, affordable broadband high speed, Fiber-ToThe-Home (FTTH) internet service to its member-owners at the lowest possible cost. Connect Anza will offer speeds of 50Mb/s both down and up to residents at a price point of $49.00 per month with no cap or limits. AEC will also offer VoIP service including CASF e911 requirements at a monthly rate of $20.

There’s one big difference between this project and Anza’s previous one: the first time around, it was going head to head with Verizon, which paid virtually no attention to its own wireline telephone systems, let alone potential competitors.

Since then, Frontier Communications has taken over those systems, including the ones that don’t offer even 1990’s legacy DSL in most of Anza Electric’s territory. The relatively few areas where broadband service is offered, speeds don’t reach the CPUC’s minimum of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. In contrast to Verizon, Frontier aggressively, and increasingly beligerently, challenges CASF grant proposals that pose a competitive threat to its monopoly control of, at best, poorly served areas of rural California. It won’t be so pleasant this time around.

California FTTH grant approved under current subsidy program rules

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California’s primary broadband subsidy program will stay on its present course, at least until the legislature changes it or the California Public Utilities Commission resets priorities and rules going forward. That’s the takeaway from a CPUC vote to approve a $1.1 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for a fiber to the home project in southern Santa Clara County.

It’s an important message to independent Internet service providers who might be considering CASF-funded projects in the future: it’s expensive to prepare and submit applications – more than $100,000 in some cases – and the prospect of having one rejected a year or two later because the rules changed increases the risk beyond the point most are willing to go.

By a 3-to-2 vote, the commission approved the Light Saber Project grant, which will pay about 60% of the cost of building out an FTTH system to 150 homes in the Paradise Valley community, in the hills east of Morgan Hill. It was the second time commissioners considered the grant. The first time, they kicked it back for more work.

This time around, the debate wasn’t really about the project itself. Rather, the debate centered on whether CASF grants should be put on hold until the commission sets new priorities for the program and/or the California legislature rewrites the rules completely.

Broadband subsidy priorities shouldn’t be set retroactively, commissioner Liane Randolph told her colleagues…

The applicant put together a project under our current system, proposed it to us and as we’ve discussed there are changes and kind of systemic modification we can make to the program, or we’re happy to take further legislative direction on how to prioritise projects, but I’m hesitant to not let a particular project move forward when they’ve presented it with the program we currently have in the effect and are administering it right now.

Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves didn’t agree, saying that as it stands, the CASF program lacks focus…

The bigger driver for me is the lack of prioritisation of the program and that’s really the context. I think the legislation will inform that. Now, the bigger issue for me is that we do have a structure that I don’t currently agree with, but I appreciate that these are the rules that are in place today.

Randolph was joined by commissioners Carla Peterman and Clifford Rechtschaffen in voting to approve the project. Along with Guzman Aceves, commission president Michael Picker also voted no.

Sometimes, telecoms lobbyists can’t help telling the truth

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When I see a headline like "Broadband speeds have soared under net neutrality rules, cable lobby says", I gotta click on it. So I did and landed on an article by Jon Brodkin on Ars Technica.

There’s no Damascene conversion involved, though. What Brodkin is highlighting is how cable lobbyists, such as the National Cable Television Association (or whatever they say the acronym stands for these days), brag about faster Internet speeds, while at the same time bemoaning the infrastructure investment apocalypse that must surely follow the FCC’s 2015 decision to regulate broadband as a common carrier service…

As we can see, the NCTA has flexible messaging and applies conflicting arguments to different situations. When the NCTA tells the Federal Communications Commission that it should roll back net neutrality regulations, the association says that the rules harm investment and raise prices on consumers. But when trying to convince the public that US broadband is a marvel of innovation and that we should all be grateful to cable companies, the NCTA says speeds are soaring and that customers are paying less.

So which is it? On an aggregate basis, broadband speeds in the U.S. are still climbing, although improvements are unevenly distributed, with affluent areas getting attention and poorer rural and inner city areas not. The NCTA’s latest puff piece is based on the the most recent State of the Internet figures published by Akamai, which is a reliable gauge of worldwide Internet performance and traffic. The exact magnitude and distribution of those improvements might be open to debate, but the general trend isn’t.

On the other hand, there’s little evidence that common carrier rules have slowed infrastructure investment. Forbes thinks it has, but Brodkin’s research shows that big incumbent telecoms companies, including AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Altice, are still putting out a happy, happy, joy, joy message to Wall Street.

Broadband service is getting better for some in the U.S., and the areas where infrastructure investment is lacking never had it in the first place. Common carrier rules don’t seem to be doing any great harm. Thank you NCTA for clearing that up.

U.S. broadband speeds climb, but gap between fast and slow persists

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Ninety percent of connections made to Akamai’s content delivery network by users in the United States were at the 4 Mbps level or better in the first quarter of this year, a five percent increase from a year ago. That indicates that consumers continue to migrate away from the lowest speed service, when they can.

Take up of faster speed levels, though, is growing relatively quickly but still represents only a fraction of the U.S. market. Akamai’s latest State of the Internet report shows that 61% of U.S. connect with speeds of at least 10 Mbps and only 21% at 25 Mbps or faster, although that proportion is growing. That 21% score is 65% higher than last year – the biggest jump in high speed take rate of any country in the top ten.

And the U.S. did rank in the top ten – in tenth place – on the global 25 Mbps list. That compares to 37th globally in the 4 Mbps rankings.

One caveat: the universe that Akamai is measuring is a subset of the entire Internet, albeit a subset that’s a very large proportion of the whole. It only sees users that are connecting to websites and content that need or can use the fast connections it enables. Those that can’t – people with very low speed access, for example dial up or the kind of sub-megabit legacy DSL service in some Californian communities that AT&T and Frontier Communications never upgraded. So based on Akamai’s numbers, we don’t know the exact percentage of U.S. Internet users who don’t have service even at the 4 Mbps level – it’s at least 10% but likely more.

Overall, the average U.S. broadband speed – from Akamai’s particular perspective – was 18.7 Mbps in the first quarter of 2017, tenth highest in the world and a 22% increase from a year ago.

$900K chopped from San Bernardino FTTH subsidy plan, but it’s moving again

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A [fiber to the home project in San Bernardino County is back on track, sorta](http://www.tellusventure.com/blog/frontier-makes-the-case-californias-ab-1665-is-double-disaster/). California Public Utilities Commission staff cut $900,000 from a proposed $29 million grant to Race Telecommunications for the Gigafy Phelan project, and [sent it all back into a 30 day comment, reply and commission consideration cycle](
http://www.tellusventure.com/downloads/casf/2017/cpuc_draft_resolution_casf_phelan_revised_30may2017.pdf).

Gigafy Phelan is an ambitious attempt to extend FTTH service to 8,400 homes in California’s high desert region, in and around the town of Phelan. Or maybe it’s 7,600 homes. It depends on how *homes* is defined, and in this case it’s more than academic. It makes a $900,000 difference.

The federal census bureau tracks *housing units* and *households*. A housing unit is a discrete structure where people might live: “a house, an apartment, a mobile home or trailer, a group of rooms, or a single room that is occupied, or, if vacant, is intended for occupancy as separate living quarters”, as the census bureau, [as quoted by CPUC staff](
http://www.tellusventure.com/downloads/casf/2017/cpuc_draft_resolution_casf_phelan_revised_30may2017.pdf
), puts it. A *household* is an occupied housing unit, regardless of the number of occupants or the relationships between them.

The California Advanced Service Fund – the broadband subsidy program that would pick up the tab – uses *households* as its primary metric. *Housing units* is a better measure, since a home that’s unoccupied today is as likely to be occupied tomorrow as any other, and everyone needs broadband service. But it’s just a way of keeping score and, so long as it’s done consistently, one way works pretty much as well as another.

It’s also a poor excuse for whittling down an FTTH project at the 11th hour, particularly one that delivers a gigabit for $60 a month and is the second “highest-scoring pending project application on the CASF’s project evaluation scoring matrix”.

The revisions open up a window for another round of protests, and you can expect Frontier Communications will continue to object, claiming that [its substandard, 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, federally subsidised service](http://www.tellusventure.com/blog/cpuc-california-lawmakers-need-to-be-as-rational-as-telecoms-monopolists/) – at no particular price point – is enough for people who live in Phelan. The *A* in CASF stands for *Advanced* services. It’s time to get on with it.

Trump appoints Rosenworcel to FCC

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Trump appoints Rosenworcel to FCC


Third time is the charm.

Jessica Rosenworcel is on her way back to the Federal Communications Commission. President Donald Trump has re-nominated her to one of the two seats reserved for democrats. The question he left hanging, though, is which seat?

This will be the third attempt at reappointing Rosenworcel to the commission. She was originally appointed by president Barack Obama in 2011, served her initial five year term with high marks from both sides of the aisle, and stayed until the end of last year, as the law allows when no renomination or replacement has been confirmed by the U.S. senate. Obama put her name forward twice: the first nomination expired in the senate, the second one was withdrawn when Trump took office.

Trump has a reputation for backing people with a track record of intelligent and competence, and Rosenworcel has that. Now her name is back on the table.

What’s not clear is whether Rosenworcel is being appointed to fill the open democratic seat or if she’s going to replace Mignon Clyburn, the only democrat on the commission, whose term expires at the end of the month (although, like Rosenworcel, she can stay on for a time, pending confirmation of a replacement). That detail should be cleaned up when the white house sends the formal paperwork to the senate.

The FCC is currently operating with only three commissioners – Clyburn, and two republicans, chairman Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly. If Rosenworcel is being appointed to the open democratic seat, then we can expect to see a third republican nomination sent to the senate soon – otherwise, the FCC would be in a two-to-two deadlock.

One name that keep popping up is Brendan Carr, currently the FCC’s general counsel and formerly an aide to Pai. But that’s just at the rumor stage right now – other names, including members of the shadowy transition landing team that Trump sent to the FCC before he took office.