CPUC pushes open access to subsidised middle mile fiber

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Access only by fiber or snowmobile.

Once again, the California Public Utilities Commission has set an expectation that publicly subsidised middle mile fiber should be available on a wholesale basis. To gain approval for a $1.8 million subsidy for a fiber to the home system in a remote area of Madera County, Ponderosa Telephone Company agreed to sell access to the fiber backhaul line that will feed it. According to a CPUC staff presentation to commissioners

Ponderosa has affirmed that wholesale access to the network will be provided in the project area. For example, if a wireless carrier chooses to put up a tower in the project area, backhaul access will be available.

It came at the prodding of commissioner Catherine Sandoval, who pushed for “a commitment to sell wholesale backbone services” at an earlier meeting, and on Thursday cited Ponderosa’s agreement to do so as a reason for supporting the project, despite its high cost per household. Sandoval emphasised the value of middle mile access to schools, and the likelihood of it attracting mobile carriers to the area, which currently lacks cell coverage.

“Wholesale access” wasn’t made a specific condition for the grant, nor was it specifically defined. But an earlier decision approving a middle mile project in Humboldt County clearly stated that it includes making dark fiber available…

[CPUC] staff has checked with the Project team to determine if it is building sufficient fiber strands and capacity is being built into the KRRBI middle-mile part of the project to ensure that the network is able to support future demand such as access to dark fiber to wholesale providers…The KRRBI middle mile network shall be made available for wholesale access to other potential CASF grantees at reasonable rates and terms. These reasonable rates shall be at cost.

To build sustainable businesses and compete with incumbents, independent Internet service providers need the level of control over quality and costs that dark fiber provides. The commission will have an opportunity to build on these precedents, when it considers a grant application for a DSL upgrade in Fresno County, also proposed by Ponderosa, that justifies a high cost per household on the basis of the middle mile fiber required to build it.

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