Tag Archives: broadband

CPUC posts proposed new rules for Internet adoption, public housing broadband grants

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This morning, commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves released a draft plan for giving out grants to broadband adoption programs, revising an existing grant program that pays for broadband facilities in California’ public housing communities, and winding down a defunct broadband infrastructure loan account. You can read it here:

Proposed decision by commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, implementing CASF broadband adoption program and modifying the CASF public housing broadband and infrastructure loan programs, 18 May 2018

You can find the background documents here.

I haven’t read through it all yet, so I’ll reserve comment until Monday. Enjoy your weekend!

Dozens of ISPs qualify to bid on FCC broadband subsidies, hundreds more in line

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Almost three hundred companies could be bidding for broadband service subsidies when the Federal Communications Commission begins auctioning off unserved rural territory across the United States. The FCC received 277 applications from companies that want to participate in the Connect America Fund program’s reverse auction, which is scheduled for late July.

Only 47 are good to go, though. The other 230 companies – including Frontier Communications – didn’t fully complete their applications, in the eyes of the FCC. They’ll have until 5 June 2018 to fix whatever problems they have.

AT&T and Verizon are in. Expanding wireline broadband service doesn’t seem to be top of mind for AT&T, though. It joined the auction via its “New Cingular Wireless” subsidiary – its mobile arm, in other words. That’s consistent with AT&T often stated intention of replacing rural broadband networks with wireless service. Verizon, on the other hand, left the door open for both its mobile or wireline companies to take part.

Comcast is represented, sorta. It owns half of Midcontinent Communications, a regional cable company based in South Dakota which submitted a complete application for the auction. Given that Midcontinent serves mostly rural and small market communities, it probably has a genuine – and limited – interest in some of the available territories.

Only one unambiguously Californian Internet service provider is on the complete list, Geolinks, a Ventura County based wireless ISP.

The auction has a lot of moving pieces. The FCC published a maximum subsidy for every remaining eligible area – i.e. where broadband service at 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds aren’t available. Companies will, presumably, bid each other down until the lowest price wins. But, they’ll also get extra points if they propose higher speeds or better quality of service metrics. Then, all the winning bids for all the areas have to be ranked – the FCC only has about $2 billion available, versus a total reserve price of $6 billion.

The odds of every unserved community making the cut are extremely low.

Republicans jump ship to vote yes, but net neutrality is still sinking

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The U.S. senate is formally opposed to the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of Obama era network neutrality rules, voting 52 to 49 yesterday to endorse a resolution of disapproval. The vote is important politically, but not practically. The next stop is the house of representatives, where the measure is expected to die a quiet death. Unless a federal court intervenes, that means the FCC’s repeal will take effect on 11 June 2018.

Three republicans joined all 49 U.S. senate democrats and voted for the resolution. Susan Collins (R – Maine) got on board early and, because John McCain (R – Arizona) is on medical leave, ensured that yes votes would have a winning majority. She was joined at the last minute by John Kennedy (R – Louisiana) and Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska).

The usual speechifying preceded the vote. John Thune (R – South Dakota), who chairs a key committee and is often the republican’s point man on telecoms issues in the U.S. senate, claimed to be speaking in favor of net neutrality, but called for new bipartisan legislation instead of playing ping pong with FCC decisions, or trying to shoe horn 21st century broadband into 20th century telephone regulations. That’s a fine idea, but Thune is free to pursue it regardless of yesterday’s vote, and he’s in a leadership position that gives him the clout to do so if he’s genuinely interested. So far, he hasn’t.

Genuine or not, the high words of praise republicans had for net neutrality principles indicates that they know it’s a hot issue for voters, and they don’t want to be on the wrong side of it. Perversely, that might clear the way for the FCC’s complete repeal of net neutrality rules to stay in effect indefinitely. Republicans have a one vote majority in the U.S. senate, which gives democrats the ability to block most legislation. They want to use net neutrality as a flagship issue in November, so they can’t allow republicans to solve the problem.

Life and death alerts are low tech/no tech, California firestorm study shows

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Social media and other online services were not the way people received lifesaving warnings when a firestorm tore through three northern California counties last year. Nearly all were alerted to evacuate via phone or personal contact, or by their own eyes, ears and noses.

That’s a top line read of the data from a study just published by the North Bay/North Coast Broadband Consortium. They ran an online survey and 3,700 people responded, nearly all of them from the hardest hit counties of Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma. The number is significant as it stands, even if it wasn’t a scientifically selected sample.

Given that some people had “literally seconds” to leave their homes in the face of a wall of fire that moved at speeds up to 50 miles per hour, the most important question is “how did you receive warning/notice to evacuate?” About a quarter got no warning at all – they figured it out themselves – and about a third were alerted by phone calls of various kinds. Nearly a quarter got a boots-on-the-ground warning – someone banged on their door or shouted out to them. Most of the rest checked other, and closer inspection shows nearly all of those responses are also variations on phone, physical or smell-the-smoke alerts.

The Internet accounted for very few of the time-critical messages. Of the more than 1,600 evacuees who responded, only 11 credited online sources for the warning: five people mentioned Facebook, four said Nextdoor and two saw notices on public agency websites. Even in those cases, most already knew something was going on. Radio and TV – ancient compared to the Internet, but newer tech than phones or feet – were almost as insignificant.

Across those three counties, 78% of respondents said they lost “some to all” of their cellular voice and data service, while 66% reported the same for wireline phones. Just looking at Internet connectivity, of whatever sort, 69% said they lost “some to all” of it.

There’s no mystery about the cause. The fires burned countless utility poles (some argue blazes were started by electric lines mounted on those poles) and more than “340 cell sites were completely destroyed or damaged”. When infrastructure goes up in smoke, service disappears too.

The report is largely quantitative and doesn’t point any particular fingers of blame, noting “the severity of the 2017 wildfires was unpredictable”.

North Bay/North Coast Broadband Consortium Telecommunications Outage Report: Northern California Firestorm 2017, released 10 May 2018.
Report Appendices, released 10 May 2018.
More information from the North Bay/North Coast Broadband Consortium.

Helpfully, the FCC posts a guide to nasty network management

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When the Federal Communications Commission published a notice on Friday, declaring that network neutrality rules would end on 11 June 2018, it also wrote a permission slip for Internet service providers to go ahead and do pretty much anything they want. It’s not stated that way, but that’s the effect.

In Friday’s notice, the FCC listed the network management practices and service terms that ISPs have to disclose to consumers. It’s okay if they engage in those practices, so long as details are posted somewhere on their websites. The list includes blocking and throttling subscriber traffic, and giving paid traffic priority over everything else – “affiliated prioritisation” and “paid prioritisation”, as the notice puts it. The only difference between the two is whether the content that’s prioritised belongs to the ISP or to an outside company.

ISPs are also allowed to shape traffic on the basis of consumer applications or devices so long as they hide it in small print on their website tell consumers what they’re doing. In particular…

  • Application-Specific Behavior. Whether and why the ISP blocks or rate- controls specific protocols or protocol ports, modifies protocol fields in ways not prescribed by the protocol standard, or otherwise inhibits or favors certain applications or classes of applications.
  • Device Attachment Rules. Any restrictions on the types of devices and any approval procedures for devices to connect to the network.

“Congestion management” measures are also allowed, including “usage limits” – i.e. data caps. A service description must also be posted, “including the service technology, expected and actual access speed and latency, and the suitability of the service for real-time applications”. If an ISP uses the bandwidth you’re buying to transmit other, non-broadband access related data – cable television channels, for example – it has to be disclosed too.

The FCC’s republican majority claims that the new rules simply return Internet governance to the way it was three years ago. That’s not exactly true. Before, there was considerable uncertainty about how aggressively an ISP could manipulate subscriber traffic to suit its own business model. Now, that uncertainty is gone: an ISP can do any of the things on the FCC’s exhaustive list of no-longer-banned practices as aggressively as it wants.

The net neutrality doomsday clock is running again

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Update: the FCC’s notice is here.

June 11th is the day that federal network neutrality rules will end. Probably. The Federal Communications Commission announced yesterday that it will publish the final, required notice today, with an effective date one month from now.

Two long shot attempts to block the FCC are underway.

Democrats (and at least one republican) in the U.S. senate want to enact a resolution of disapproval that would veto the FCC’s republican majority decision late last year to scrap the net neutrality rules it approved three years ago, when it had a democratic majority. The resolution has a plausible chance of making it through the U.S. senate, but it will die in the house of representatives, where republicans have a comfortable majority. Republicans were correct when they called it a piece of political theater, but since that’s what Washington, D.C. runs on, it’s a victory for democrats on the national political stage. Republicans don’t object to the drama, they’re upset because the democrats stole the spotlight.

The best chance of keeping net neutrality alive past 11 June 2018 is a lawsuit that’s sitting in a federal appeals court in D.C. Several challenges to the FCC’s decision – including filings from the California Public Utilities Commission and the County of Santa Clara – have been rolled into a consolidated case. It’ll be years before federal courts reach a final decision, but judges have the authority to put the FCC’s decision on hold while the case is pending.

Federal judges declined to do that in 2015, when net neutrality rules were imposed, because, among other reasons, the big Internet service providers, like AT&T and Comcast, claimed they were following them anyway. This time around, those same companies are loudly arguing for the right to charge extra for Internet fast lanes. The circumstances of the FCC’s decision are different this time too – there’s a better chance of making the case that it was “arbitrary and capricious”.

Even so, direct judicial intervention would be unusual. The way to bet is on net neutrality rules ending on 11 June.

Net neutrality debate flares brightly in the U.S. senate

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The U.S. senate will vote on network neutrality, and reinstatement might have enough votes to win the day. But that’s as far as it’ll go.

Yesterday, U.S. senate democrats executed a parliamentary maneuver and forced a full floor vote on a resolution of disapproval aimed at overturning the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to roll back the net neutrality rules adopted in 2015. It’s based on a law, called the Congressional Review Act, that allows congress to veto decisions made by federal agencies. If both houses of congress vote in favor and the president signs it.

There’s a chance that a majority of U.S. senators will vote for the veto. There are 49 democrats, and independents who vote with the democrats, in the U.S. senate. One republican – Maine’s Susan Colllins – is a co-sponsor of the resolution. That makes it 50 in favor of net neutrality, which could be enough to win, if Arizona republican John McCain stays on medical leave – the vote has to be taken by 12 June 2018, and he might be out that long (although there are predictions that the vote could come as early as next week).

To pull the same trick in the house of representatives, though, more than a dozen republicans would have to cross over and that’s highly unlikely. As is an approving signature from president Donald Trump. House republicans have already dissed the resolution, saying that they’re working on their own version of a net neutrality revival. So did senator John Thune (R – South Dakota), calling the move “political theater”, even while claiming he supports “rules that prevent blocking, throttling, and paid prioritisation of Internet traffic”.

So the resolution of disapproval will die along the way. But U.S. senators and, by default if nothing else, house members will have to line up on one side or the other. That’s enough to make it a potent campaign issue as democrats try to gain control of both houses in November.

California’s telecom right of way rules are detailed but not tidy

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I was asked yesterday about California’s public right of way (ROW) rules, as they apply to telecoms companies. There’s no one stop handbook that I know of (but if anyone else does, please chime in). The rules are fluid, and are mostly determined by CPUC decisions, with some court rulings thrown in.

In California, it starts with section 7901 of the public utilities code

Telegraph or telephone corporations may construct lines of telegraph or telephone lines along and upon any public road or highway, along or across any of the waters or lands within this State, and may erect poles, posts, piers, or abutments for supporting the insulators, wires, and other necessary fixtures of their lines, in such manner and at such points as not to incommode the public use of the road or highway or interrupt the navigation of the waters.

That’s interpreted to mean that local agencies can’t prohibit or charge a fee – either one-time or ongoing rents – for ROW use. Local agencies can regulate “time, place and manner” of access and charge one time permit fees based on processing costs, but can’t block use.

The fundamental CPUC decision setting the rules was issued in 1998. It’s been modified, directly and indirectly, many times since. The most recent changes were in 2016 to explicitly include mobile carriers and allow them to attach wireless facilities to utility poles, and last month to extend the same privilege to wireline telephone companies. In 2015, the commission narrowed the gap between broadband providers and traditional telephone and cable companies in a pair of rulings, one involving Google Fiber and the other a California Advanced Services Fund subsidy for a fiber to the home project.

Typically, the text of new decisions summarise the current state of the rules, and are a good starting point for figuring what’s what.

There’s also a case pending at the California supreme court – T-Mobile vs. City and County of San Francisco – regarding aesthetic standards. It’s a challenge to an appeals court ruling that allowed San Francisco to regulate wireless facilities on aesthetic grounds, up to a point.

The documents are all posted here:

Conduit, right of way, pole attachment, dark fiber and franchise agreement documents

I’ll update that page as I get new information.

California legislature takes on bots, false news and privacy

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Some bills that would regulate websites, social media and other consumer-facing Internet services are moving ahead in the California legislature. But not all of them.

Assembly bill 3169, carried by James Gallagher (R – Chico), is dead. It would have required “social media Internet web sites” and search engines to be politically neutral. It would have failed any First Amendment test. The assembly privacy and consumer protection committee scrapped it by ignoring it – when the vote was taken, only two members, both democrats, said aye and the rest remained silent.

One of those voting aye, assemblyman Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park), has a couple of privacy bills pending. AB 2511 would put restrictions on web sites and applications that use information about minors; AB 2935 would do the same for information collected by health monitoring devices. Both made it out of committee and are queued up for a floor vote in the assembly.

As originally written, senate bill 1424 by Richard Pan (D – Sacramento) was as dumb an idea as Gallagher’s proposal. It would have required social media platforms to place a warning on news stories containing false information. Besides being completely unworkable, it too would have collapsed at the first mention of the First Amendment. Pan rewrote it to require sites to disclose fact checking and other editorial policies. Even as amended, SB 1424 still looks like an overreach, though. The senate judiciary committee is scheduled to take a look at it today.

Two bills took aim at bots – automated processes that can mimic people, and collect and post information on websites and social media. AB 1950 by Marc Levine (D – San Rafael) would have required sites that use bots to disclose the practice. It was also killed by the assembly privacy and consumer protection committee (although death is never final in the California legislature – anything can happen so long as it’s in session).

SB 1001 by Bob Hertzberg (D – Van Nuys) specifically targets bots that act like people – chatbots, as they’re sometimes called. If a company invites you chat online but doesn’t tell you that, say, Eliza, is just a computer program designed to make you think they care, then they could face consumer fraud charges. It was approved by both the senate judiciary and business, professions and economic development committees, and is awaiting a final blessing from legislative leaders on the appropriations committee before heading to the senate floor.

Market competition pushes down San Jose light pole lease rates

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The City of San Jose will finalise a light pole lease agreement with AT&T. The San Jose city council approved a set of deal points on a nine to one vote last week. AT&T will pay $1,500 per year each to attach small cell equipment to city-owned light poles, plus pay $1,850,000 toward fees and a permit streamlining program.

That’s less than half of what San Jose was trying to charge.

“We have a fast changing landscape”, San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo said. “I’Il be talking with Verizon tomorrow and that’s one of several companies – we’re having challenges nailing them down on prices that are moving very rapidly, in some cases, the wrong direction”.

San Jose’s rate card had a top rate of $3,500 per year for the smallest of small cell attachments, with higher rates for bigger or more powerful equipment. Besides being too expensive, San Jose couldn’t predictably approve permit applications, which led AT&T to invest elsewhere, Dolan Beckel, San Jose’s director of civic innovation, told the council…

In September of 2016, AT&T submitted 17 small cell permit applications. Over a year later in November of 2017…none of those 17 small cell permits were approved. AT&T could not justify further investment in our small cell infrastructure – we are too expensive, we are too slow and we could not generate any predictability. They are pulling their capital investment in small cells out of the city and directing it to other cities.

Whether AT&T would have walked away from San Jose for good is an open question. Probably not – it can’t afford to concede the biggest city in northern California and Silicon Valley to its rivals. But even AT&T’s capital isn’t infinite. Choices have to be made and, for now at least, investment will follow the path of least resistance.

The lower fees and faster permits – the city will try to get permits processed in two months – will lead to an initial build of 170 small cell sites, with 1,000 or more promised in a later phase, Beckel said.

The deal also gives AT&T direct responsibility for dealing with complaints or objections by residents, on a fast track basis. AT&T would snail mail notices to people who live within 300 feet of proposed small cell sites. Recipients would have 20 calendar days to “contact…AT&T with their concerns and questions”. It would be up to AT&T to resolve problems they can and let the city know about the ones they can’t. What happens after that is still undefined.