Tag Archives: broadband

Make California broadband subsidy decisions on basis of impact, says CPUC draft


Given that there’s limited state subsidy money available for broadband infrastructure upgrades in California, it makes sense to spend it in a way that’ll have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people. That was a major concern at the last California Public Utilities Commission meeting, when some commissioners pushed back on proposed infrastructure construction grants from the California Advanced Services Fund, at least partly because it wasn’t clear how the projects that were on the table fit within overall, statewide priorities. Or what those priorities might be.

A possible methodology for making those decisions was floated by CPUC staff, in a whitepaper published last Friday. You can read the details of how the data was crunched in the paper itself. In general terms, the analysis began by comparing the housing density of areas that lack acceptable broadband service – the CPUC’s baseline standard is 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds – and coming up with 46 Californian communities with population density greater than 150 households per square mile. That list was narrowed down by filtering out areas with problematic terrain, or that don’t meet the CASF “unserved” legal requirement, or where a fixed wireless operator is present, regardless of the standards (or lack thereof) those operators meet, or that have broadband service that meets the federal government’s lower standard of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up (boosting upload speeds requires a higher level of technology and greater service provider diligence than improving download speeds).

That left 13 communities that were designated as “high impact areas” and would move to head of the CASF subsidy line if this preliminary methodology is eventually adopted.

The whitepaper’s analytical approach is very similar to the one that the Central Coast Broadband Consortium used in 2014 to identify the areas in our region where broadband construction subsidies would likewise have the greatest impact. In fact, it uses our initial density-based screening criteria, with much appreciated due credit. There’s a fair debate to be had over which metrics to use and how to weave them into an analytical framework, but the basic approach is correct. With dwindling funds and dimming prospects for getting more, CPUC broadband subsidy decisions should be driven by objective data and systematic analysis.

California broadband subsidies back on the table in Sacramento


The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which is California’s primary tool for subsidising new broadband infrastructure in under and unserved areas is once again in play in Sacramento. Friday was the deadline for lawmakers to introduce new legislation for the 2017 session, and four CASF-related bills are now in the hopper.

However, none of the bills are substantive at this point. All four are simply placeholders, awaiting agreement, action or obstruction from the players involved. Friday was the deadline for new bills, but once a bill has been introduced, it can be amended without limit, including replacing the text completely and substituting what amounts to a completely new bill – also known as gut and amend – almost right up to the end of the legislature’s session in August.

Assembly bill 854 was introduced by assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo County). Aguiar-Curry is new to the legislature, having formerly been mayor of Winters, where she was a strong advocate for broadband development. As written it makes a couple of meaningless edits to the law that authorises CASF. That might not be its final form, though – now that it’s drafted, it can be edited as the year goes on.

The same is true of AB 928 by assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward) and senate bill 460 by senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego County). Both make the same small edit – changing a notional deadline from 2015 to 2020.

Last year, Hueso, who is the chair of the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee, used a CASF-related bill to allow more time to use the money to install broadband facilities in public housing properties. Quirk also rocked up with a CASF-related bill last year, but it was an AT&T-written counter move to a bill that would have added more money to CASF and increased the opportunities for building new infrastructure. It’s likely that Quirk, who has shown no real interest in broadband development beyond what AT&T and other incumbents prefer to do, intends once again to use his bill as a bargaining chip if and when a fully fleshed out CASF bill is under serious consideration.

The final bill, AB 1655 by Eduardo Garcia (D – Riverside County), has more new text in it, and even goes so far as to create a new pot of money to fund broadband marketing efforts – adoption programs is the term used – and generally restructure the program, but it is simply a framework for discussion at this point. As written it contains no new money for CASF, which is dwindling down, and doesn’t have specifics about how the program would be run.

None of the bills are ready to be considered, but the placeholders are on the table and the backstage wrangling can begin.

4K TV sales growing, with 20% U.S. market share in sight


About three-quarters of all large screen televisions – those more than 50 inches – that were sold last year in the U.S. (and worldwide) were 4K, ultra-high definition (UHD) sets, according to Paul Gagnon, the director of tv sets research for IHS Markit. By 2018, all but 100% of big screens sold will be 4K-capable. In raw numbers, the Consumer Technology Association – the trade association for the U.S. consumer electronics industry – estimates that more than 80 million 4K sets will be sold worldwide this year, and next year the total will be in the 100 million unit range.

Adding CTA’s numbers up, by the end of 2018, there will be something like 300 million 4K television sets in homes and business worldwide. We don’t have sales figures for 2016 yet, but in 2015 the U.S. accounted for about 20% of 4K sales. That share appears to be dropping, though. According to CTA, 4K sales in China have been accelerating and account for the largest chunk worldwide. But even if you discount the U.S. share by half – make it 10% – we’re still looking at something like an addressable universe of 30 million 4K sets.

If you make another back-of-the-envelope cut and say that about a fifth of those – 5 or 6 million – are used in commercial establishments or for industrial purposes, then the ballpark estimate is that within two years, 20% of U.S. homes will have 4K UHD sets.

That’s good news for the consumer electronics industry, which has seen falling television sales. CTA estimates that worldwide TV sales have slipped by about 20 million units since 2014 and the dollar value is dropping even faster, at more than 10% per year. A quantum jump in picture quality will be a good reason for consumers to replace HDTV sets that are still working just fine.

The worse your broadband, the harder price hikes hit, FCC data says


Broadband service is getting more expensive, particularly if you’re on the slow side of the digital divide. The Federal Communications Commission just published its 2017 urban benchmark rate survey, which it uses to set prices and data caps for subsidised rural service – via the Connect America Fund, for example – as well as standards for lifeline service.

In 2016 (which is the benchmark year for 2017 rates), urban customers subscribing to packages with download speeds of 10 Mbps, upload speeds of 1 Mbps per second and a data cap of 100 gigabytes per month – in other words, the slowest and lowest service – paid $76.49 per month. That’s $7.33 more than a year before, an 11% increase. Customers with the highest end service in the survey – 25 Mbps down, 5 Mbps up and no data cap – saw their bills go up only $1.52, increasing 2% to $90.76.

As the table above shows, the lower the level of service you buy, the greater the price increase you have to bear, both on an absolute and percentage basis.

One caveat: the benchmarks are based on the prices and terms that are offered by Internet service providers, and not on the average price that consumers actually pay. In other words, customers with low end packages might be – probably are – paying less on average than the benchmark price because when presented with a choice of comparable packages, the microeconomic assumption is that they’ll opt for the cheaper one.

Urban and suburban residents in California can typically – but not always – choose between service from a cable and a telephone company, for example, so they can make that choice. On the other hand, the benchmark rate, which also factors in expensive fixed wireless prices, would be the best that many rural residents might be able to get from the single, federally subsidised provider that serves their area.

No common carrier rules, but draft bill leaves room for net neutrality


Say goodbye.

A republican-backed bill introduced in congress in 2015 might be the best clue we have regarding where broadband regulation is headed at the federal level. Shortly before the Federal Communications Commission redefined broadband as a common carrier service, and then used that authority to establish a code of conduct for Internet service providers – the network neutrality rules – senator John Thune (R – South Dakota) and representative Fred Upton (R – Michigan) circulated draft legislation aimed at short circuiting that action.

The bill didn’t go anywhere and there was no chance that president Obama would have signed it anyway. But it’s resurfaced recently as the Trump administration and the new republican majority at the FCC start peeling back the net neutrality decision. A story by Ali Breland in The Hill says that Thune is willing to move ahead with a compromise that would leave some restrictions in place.

His 2015 draft is a likely blueprint. It would keep the headline elements of net neutrality, such as requirements that Internet service providers “may not block lawful content, applications, or services” and that they “may not throttle lawful traffic by selectively slowing, speeding, degrading, or enhancing Internet traffic based on source, destination, or content” or “engage in paid prioritization”. All “subject to reasonable network management”.

But that’s about it. The bill would have also banned the FCC from treating broadband as a common carrier service or otherwise expanding its authority over the Internet.

Some in congress – in particular, Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennessee), the chair of a key house subcommittee – would prefer to wait and see what the FCC does. Even Thune’s approach, which he considers to be a compromise that’ll attract bipartisan support, might be too much for other republicans. Whether or not remnants of net neutrality rules remain, it appears increasingly certain that the classification of broadband service as a common carrier utility will not survive much longer.

Two nuggets of broadband policy gold offered to Trump administration


It’s in there somewhere.

So as not to throw the baby out with the bathwater (although it’s a small baby in an ocean of bathwater), it’s worth highlighting a couple of genuine wins in the last gasp “progress report” from the Obama administration’s federal broadband opportunity council.

The acknowledgement by the federal economic development agency (EDA) that broadband infrastructure is eligible for grant funding is particularly valuable, since it’s backed up with cash. EDA is now encouraging local agencies to “incorporate broadband investments (if applicable) into their regional economic development strategies along with other assets such as transportation infrastructure, energy, land use, etc.” Whether or not that beneficence will continue into Donald Trump’s reign is still an open question, but at least it’s standard operating procedure for now.

Contrast that to the USDA’s broadband funding programs, which are largely restricted to incumbents (although that includes electric utilities, under some circumstances) and mostly involve loans, which also favor current monopolists over competitive start ups.

The second small victory comes in the form of a memo from a federal environmental protection agency executive telling staff to try to be efficient when evaluating infrastructure projects. Such efficiency…

Includes allowing entities laying cable to take advantage of trenches opened for EPA-funded projects or projects under EPA oversight where feasible, appropriate, environmentally sound, and consistent with statutory, regulatory or court-ordered requirements.

I appreciate your efforts to ensure that agency employees, grantees, contractors and our state and tribal partners all understand that the EPA supports a “dig-once” approach to environmental and human-health infrastructure investments when projects can also support greater broadband access for the American public.

Yes, there’s an abundant supply of weasel words in there, but the good news is that it leans in to the Trump administration’s regulatory fast track mind set. If anything gets chopped, it’ll be the weasel words.

Too little, too late from the federal broadband opportunity council


Received and filed.

It’s called a progress report, but there’s not much progress to report. And the safe bet is that the federal broadband opportunity council will go into hibernation, rather than continue with whatever progress it might have made. Nevertheless, the council published a valediction of its efforts as the Trump administration was walking in the door.

The council was formed in 2015, following Barack Obama’s community-broadband-king-for-a-day speech in Iowa in January of that year. It was a federal version of the California Broadband Council (CBC), which likewise attempts to bring high level officials together to coordinate broadband programs and policies. Unlike the CBC, which at least began its life with major decision makers at the table, the federal council leaped straight into mediocrity with a line up of middle managers from the deep bureaucracy.

There were a couple of genuine advances, such as making it much easier to use economic development administration grants for broadband planning and infrastructure projects, and the startling admission from the environmental protection agency that placing a fiber optic cable in an otherwise existing trench might not harm the environment. Might not. More on that tomorrow.

Otherwise, the report is mostly bureaucratic jargon larded with euphemisms for we’ll get around to it later. Consider…

“DOT encouraged…”
“GSA and BroadbandUSA have discussed…”
“BroadbandUSA…is beta testing…”
“ATJ engaged with NSF…although no ATJ-related proposals were selected for funding…”
“The Office of Educational Technology requested funding…”

Even definitive promises came to naught. The report said that “NTIA’s BroadbandUSA website will be relaunched in January 2017″, but here it is February and nothing has changed. Either the new website wasn’t as far along as the report indicated, or the incoming administration hit the delete button.

I’m betting it’s the latter: all the signals coming out of the white house and the FCC indicate that broadband infrastructure development is to be left to the private sector, in particular incumbent monopolists.

Net neutrality on a fast track to oblivion at FCC


No doubt about intentions.

In his short time as Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai hasn’t actually said he’s going to scrap the 2015 decision to classify broadband as a common carrier service, and with it the network neutrality rules that depend on it. But in comments he made last week and in the substance of his big news dump on Friday, it’s clear that he’s moving quickly in that direction.

Among the actions announced late Friday afternoon was the cancellation of investigations into the zero rating practices of AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and T-Mobile. The question was whether offering customers unlimited free data to watch video sold by the carriers while charging fees and enforcing data caps on outside content violates the core principle of network neutrality: that broadband providers can’t use their control – monopoly or otherwise – over Internet access to gain a competitive advantage over other content providers.

In a preliminary finding, released in the final days of the Obama administration, the FCC said yes it does, at least where AT&T and Verizon are concerned. At the time, Pai blasted the report and said change was on the way. And so it was.

Pai also shredded draft decisions that would have regulated wholesale broadband rates and cable companies’ set top box practices, and revived an effort to exempt small and medium sized ISPs from transparency requirements. Like the zero rating investigation, all of those depend on broadband being classified as a common carrier service.

When that decision was made two years ago, then-chair Tom Wheeler labeled it the “Open Internet Order”. No longer. Pai, who speaks carefully, if often verbosely, now calls it the “Title II Order” and FCC staff are following suit. That characterisation is correct. Title II, which is FCC jargon for common carrier regulations, is at the heart of the decision and net neutrality or an open Internet or transparency or wholesale rates are issues that follow from it.

Words matter, particularly in government. Eliminate the common carrier classification and everything else disappears too.

FCC chair Pai buries transparency pledge with a big dump


Under orders from new republican chairman Ajit Pai, Federal Communications Commission staff issued orders and sent letters rescinding several recent actions on Friday afternoon. In what democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn blasted as a “Friday news dump” and Pai praised as “revoking midnight regulations”, the FCC cancelled or pulled back…

Clyburn’s characterisation is correct. Whatever else it might be, Friday’s late afternoon announcements are a Friday news dump. She was also right in calling out Pai’s action as hypocritical. The day before, he broke precedent and released draft versions of two relatively minor decisions the commission will consider later this month and said in a written statement

I want this Commission to be as open and accessible as possible to the American people. I want us to do a better job of communicating with those we are here to serve…Now, that’s not to say that the contents of FCC proposals and orders remain secret to everyone. Lobbyists with inside-the-Beltway connections are typically able to find out what’s in them. But the best that average Americans will get is selective disclosures authorized by the Chairman’s Office—disclosures designed to paint items in the most favorable light. More often, the public is kept completely in the dark.

During the transition to the new Trump administration, Pai and others promised to reverse any last minute actions approved under the outgoing, democratic chairman’s authority. No surprise there. But shovelling bare bones cancellation orders out all at once and just before the weekend is the same sort of political spin doctoring that former chair Tom Wheeler habitually indulged in and that Pai rightly slammed, then and now.

Charter is ripping off Internet subscribers, says NY attorney general


Time Warner Cable executives deliberately under provisioned and over promised Internet service to its subscribers in the State of New York and Charter Communications is allowing the practice to continue, claims New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman in a lawsuit filed earlier this week. It’s a follow on to an investigation kicked off in 2015.

Charter purchased TWC in May 2016. It took over operation of systems and customer equipment that couldn’t delivered speeds that were advertised or that customers purchased and “even now, [Charter] continues to offer Internet speeds that we found they cannot reliably deliver”, Schneiderman alleges. TWC went so far as to rig speed tests run by the Federal Communications Commission, according to the lawsuit

[Time Warner Cable] leased older-generation modems to over 900,000 subscribers in New York State…However, [Time Warner Cable] knew that, in practice, these older-generation modems were incapable of achieving the Internet speeds its subscribers were led to believe they were paying for…

[Time Warner Cable] managed its cable network in a way that did not deliver the promised Internet speeds over any type of connection. It cut corners by packing too many subscribers in the same service group, which resulted in slower speeds for subscribers, especially during peak hours. It also failed to add more channels for each service group, which similarly resulted in slower speeds for subscribers…
[Time Warner Cable] further deceived the FCC by manipulating the average Internet speed results in the FCC’s speed tests. The company inflated the average speed results by providing increased Internet speeds when service groups were less utilized to offset (and conceal) test results showing slower speeds when the service groups had heavier usage. By gaming the FCC speed tests in this manner, [Time Warner Cable] concealed the fact that it failed to consistently deliver the promised speeds to its subscribers under actual network conditions.

Charter’s response to an enquiry from Ars Technica blamed TWC but stopped short of admitting there was actually a problem or promising that it would actually fix anything.