Tag Archives: casf

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

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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

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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.

CPUC broadband subsidy skepticism grows, grants on hold

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A proposal to build a 300 mile middle mile fiber network connecting remote communities in northern California to high speed Internet access might or might not be in line for extra cash. The Digital 299 project would go through the mountainous terrain along state route 299 from Redding in the Sacramento Valley, through Trinity County and on to Eureka on the Humboldt County coast.

Yesterday, the California Public Utilities Commission weighed a recommendation from staff for a $41 million subsidy from the California Advanced Services Fund against pleas from local communities along the proposed route for an extra $6 million that they believe is necessary to make the project financially viable. They also asked for a waiver of performance bond requirements and closer coordination of environmental reviews.

No action was taken, but commissioner Carla Peterman promised to draft an alternate version of the decision and bring it back for a vote. It’s an open question, though, whether at least two other commissioners will go along with it. Liane Randolph indicated she was favorably inclined, but as he often does, CPUC president Michael Picker complained about a lack of strategic broadband vision – ironic, since it’s his job to provide that kind of leadership – and said “I’m likely to vote against this under any circumstances”.

It was the first time the two newly appointed CPUC members, Martha Guzman Aceves and Clifford Rechtschaffen, had a chance to consider CASF broadband infrastructure subsidy policy or specific proposals. Rechtschaffen echoed Randolph’s comments, but Guzman Aceves joined Picker in taking a harder line. Like Picker, she also pushed back on a second CASF grant proposal, for the Light Saber project, a small fiber-to-the-home system in a leafy neighborhood in southern Santa Clara County. It’s a much smaller build, but still involves a substantial amount – $1 million – and Guzman Aceves was skeptical about spending state subsidy money on high income communities.

The Light Saber proposal was pulled indefinitely, at least until commissioners have a chance to consider setting broadband deployment priorities. Digital 299 will likely back for a second look sooner, perhaps at the next commission meeting in March.

More push for more money for northern California middle mile project

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The Digital 299 middle mile fiber project under consideration for a $42 million subsidy from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) will have been under review for a year and half, if the California Public Utilities Commission votes on it as scheduled next week. Yesterday was the deadline for submitting comments – pro or con – and seven organisations did so.

The applicant, Inyo Networks, is asking the commission to increase the grant to $49 million. The original request was for $51 million but it was cut because CPUC staff determined that the area is largely underserved – i.e. substandard service is available – rather than completely unserved following challenges by local wireless providers. The difference is that underserved areas are eligible for subsidies amounting to 60% of construction costs, while unserved areas get 70%. One of those wireless operators is back at it, asking the commission to reject the grant. Velocity Communications claims it’ll be upgrading service in the area real soon now.

The California Center for Rural Policy and the California Emerging Technology Fund filed comments backing the request for more money. So did Frontier Communications, the incumbent telephone company along much of the 300 mile route. But Frontier also backed away from any commitment to upgrade its own customers in the area to the CPUC’s minimum standard of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds.

Other opposition came from the usual suspects. The proposed route links the northern California coast and the rugged and sparsely populated terrain along state route 299 to long haul fiber in the Sacramento Valley. Of necessity, a middle mile project has to begin in a served area and it happens that the connection points are in or near Charter Communication’s service area around Redding. So Charter and the cable industry’s Sacramento lobbyists objected, asking the commission to slow things down. Sounds so reasonable, except that the grant application has already been under review for a more than a year longer than allowed by the CPUC’s rules. Delay a project long enough, and you’ll kill it.

CPUC considers filling Silicon Valley broadband gap

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A $1.1 million subsidy for a trimmed back fiber to the home project in Paradise Valley, a community in the hilly outskirts of Silicon Valley, is up for approval at the California Public Utilities Commission. Proposed in 2015 as a $2.8 million venture reaching 515 homes, the Light Saber project in southern Santa Clara County was challenged by a local wireless Internet service provider, who claimed to already cover the area.

Not completely so, apparently: more than 350 homes in less affluent San Martin were cut from the project area, but a draft resolution approving a grant for the rest from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is slated for a vote by commissioners at their first meeting in February. According to the draft…

The proposed project will provide the Paradise Valley community with improved access to e-health services, as well as online economic opportunities. It will also provide public safety benefits by enabling the local communications facilities that provide voice services to meet FCC standards for E911 service and battery backup. The proposed project will also supply public safety agencies in the area with an interconnected public safety data communications network.

Home service begins at $109 per month for symmetrical 50 Mbps service with a two year commitment, and dips to $90 per month with a three year lock in. A symmetrical gigabit will run $289 per month on the two year plan, with a $10 per month discount for a three year term.

South Santa Clara County is a patchwork of Frontier (ex-Verizon), AT&T and Charter territories. Broadband service ranges from mediocre to non-existent, with business and consumer subscribers showing a high level of dissatisfaction with incumbents, even in Morgan Hill, the next door neighbor to San Jose, the self-styled capital of Silicon Valley.

If a final decision is made at the CPUC’s 9 February 2017 meeting, it will be just shy of a year late. CASF program rules approved by the commission set a 106-day deadline for processing and voting on infrastructure construction grant applications, a time frame that’s necessary in order to keep private capital in the game. No justification for taking four times as long as allowed to reach a decision was offered in the draft.

Fiber route from California’s north coast to central valley in line for $42 million subsidy

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Another major middle mile fiber project is queued up for approval at the California Public Utilities Commission. A draft decision that would grant a $42 million subsidy from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to the Digital 299 project was published just before the Christmas break and is expected to be up for a vote by commissioners in February. Inyo Networks – the company behind the Digital 395 system and other CASF-funded projects – made the proposal in August 2015.

The project would build a nearly 300 mile fiber optic line west from the Interstate 5 corridor south of Redding, where connections to long haul intercity networks are available, through the mountains of Shasta, Trinity and Humboldt counties along state route 299, to two locations along the Pacific coast, at Eureka and Trinidad. According to the draft resolution

With this project, Inyo plans to: (1) bring ultra-fast and secure broadband backhaul to isolated underserved and unserved communities along the Highway 299 corridor and to those adjacent within a 15-mile distance from the backhaul; (2) establish peering points in Eureka and in the North Sacramento Valley for interconnection with other transport providers to ensure network reliability and improve the quality of educational, government, public safety, and health facilities in the project area; (3) improve cellular data services in a heavily forested, mountainous region;2 and, (4) provide high-speed, last-mile service to the community of Lewiston in Trinity County.

The project includes a small last mile component in Lewiston in Trinity County, where residents will be able to buy a symmetrical gigabit of Internet service for $60 a month, and a discounted 25 Mbps package for $30 per month. The bigger benefit, though, will be to other retail broadband service providers and major institutional users – mostly state, local and tribal agencies – along the route, and to communities along California’s north coast that lack redundant, high speed middle mile connectivity to major Internet exchanges.

California broadband subsidy approved for Mother Lode WISP

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Calaveras County won’t be limited to traditional forms of entertainment.

Nearly 5,000 households in Calaveras and Amador counties, along with a few in Alpine County, will be offered faster wireless broadband service, at a minimum of 6 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload speeds, and ranging up to 25 Mbps download and 4 Mbps upload speeds. At least that’s the plan as presented to the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, as it approved a $2.9 million construction grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to a local wireless Internet service provider, Cal.net.

Several companies protested the project, including small incumbent telephone companies and another WISP, Conifer Communications. After a lengthy review – it took 590 days for the CPUC to approve the project, 484 more than allowed – some homes were removed from the project boundaries and some money was shaved off the grant request. It’s the third CASF infrastructure grant that Cal.net has won; the other two projects are in El Dorado County.

As with the others, this latest grant will go towards paying for wireless towers and equipment. The plan, according to the CPUC resolution, is to…

…use a variety of technologies to service broadband to end users, which includes Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) equipment for line- of-sight situations, fixed-LTE (a non-mobile variation of the LTE commonly used in cell phones) for near-line-of-sight situations (minor obstructions), and TV White Space in the UHF and upper-VHF bands for heavily-obstructed non-line-of-sight situations.

The resolution doesn’t go into detail, but it’s likely that not all the homes covered by the project will have the full range of speed options available – different technologies and radio bands have different performance and capacity specs.

Prices are well above those offered by fiber-to-the-home projects. Cal.net plans to charge $70 per month for 6 Mbps down/2 Mbps up service, and $160 per month for 25 Mbps down/4 Mbps up. That compares to $25 per month for symmetrical (i.e. the same down and up) 25 Mbps service for a CASF subsidised FTTH project in rural Marin County that was approved by the CPUC in August.

More California regional broadband consortia funded

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Three regional broadband consortia were approved for funding by the California Public Utilities Commission this week. That brings the total to nine, with three more queued up for next month’s meeting. Here’s how it lines up…

Approved on 10 November 2016:

  • Gold Country Broadband Consortium, $300,000 over two years. Covers Sierra, Nevada, Placer, El Dorado and a part of Alpine counties, except for the Tahoe Basin area, which [has its own, separate consortium](). Focus is on finding opportunities for new broadband projects. The Sierra Business Council will take over operation of the consortium from the Sierra Economic Development Corporation.
  • Inland Empire Regional Broadband Consortium, also $300,000 over two years. Represents Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Will concentrate on technology and policy development.
  • Connected Capital Area Broadband Consortium, $298,750 over two years. Takes in Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. Work plan includes developing broadband infrastructure projects and increasing the availability, affordability and use of Internet services.

Approved on 27 October 2016:

  • Inyo Mono Broadband Consortium, $105,216 over two years for Inyo and Mono counties. Data-driven infrastructure development program, focused on leveraging the Digital 395 fiber backbone.
  • Redwood Coast Connect Broadband Consortium, $208,000 over two years in Del Norte, Humboldt, and Trinity counties. Plans to work on infrastructure deployment, particularly along the State Route 299 corridor and the Klamath River.
  • San Joaquin Valley Regional Broadband Consortium, $180,000 over three years. Serves Fresno, western Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare counties. Activities mostly involve promoting broadband use.

You can read more about these consortia here.

Approved on 18 August 2016:

  • Central Coast Broadband Consortium, $264,500 over five years. Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties.
  • East Bay Broadband Consortium, $272,160 over three years. Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano counties.
  • Tahoe Basin Project, $200,000 over two years. Focus is on the Tahoe Basin portions of Placer and Eldorado counties, but since broadband has to come from somewhere other than the middle of the lake, passing consideration is also given to the late, great County of Pautah.

More detail about what these three consortia plan to do is here.

Scheduled for consideration on 1 December 2016:

  • North Bay/ North Coast Broadband Consortium ($250,000, two years), Marin, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma counties.
  • Central Sierra Connect Broadband Consortium ($249,000, two years), Mariposa, Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador and western Alpine counties.
  • Los Angeles County Regional Broadband Consortium ($600,000, two years). Represents most of Los Angeles County, via four sub-regions – Central /West Los Angeles, Gateway Cities, San Fernando Valley and South Bay.

A total of 15 groups originally applied for regional broadband consortia grants from the California Advanced Services Fund earlier this year. Programs in northeastern California (a combination of two previous consortia), eastern Kern County and the southern Central Coast region (San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties) are still under review.

Tellus Venture Associates has worked with many of these consortia, in one capacity or another. I’m not a disinterested commentator, take it for what it’s worth.

Status quo for broadband policy in Sacramento

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Bradford is back.

There’s no predicting what impact the political upheaval in Washington, D.C. will have on broadband policy and development, but there’s likely to be little change here in California as a result of Tuesday’s election.

The one significant change that was at stake in Sacramento was a possible democratic supermajority in the California legislature. Votes will continue to be counted until Monday, but at this point it appears that democrats will have a supermajority in the assembly, but not in the senate. That means that at least a minimal degree of republican cooperation will be continue to be necessary to pass a budget and any tax hikes, including reauthorisation of the expired tax on phone bills that formerly paid for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

For now, CASF is primarily used to pay for broadband infrastructure construction, mostly in rural areas. Such Californian republicans that survive tend to represent rural areas, which means two things: 1. they might be convinced, as some have in the past, to support reauthorisation of CASF, and 2. they should tend to favor keeping it focused on infrastructure, rather than on social service-focused programs that are more attractive to urban representatives. Overwhelmingly, California cities and suburbs are represented by democrats and already have access to the California Public Utilities Commission’s minimum broadband service level of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds.

One urban democrat who understands both sides of that equation will be returning to the California legislature. Steven Bradford, who was the key player in the 2013 reboot of CASF, won a Los Angeles senate seat. As an assemblyman, he chaired the assembly utilities and commerce committee and was an active participant on the California Broadband Council. It’s too early to know for sure whether he plans to continue that work in senate, but the political betting line says he will.

Two more eastern California towns in line for FTTH

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Bridgeport and Walker in northern Mono County will get gigabit-class fiber to the home service, if the California Public Utilities Commission votes to approve a $3.1 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), as recommended by a long delayed draft resolution prepared by staff.

The grant would go to Race Telecommunications, which has been building fiber to the home systems along and near the Digital 395 middle mile fiber route. Both the last mile systems and Digital 395 have benefited from CASF subsidies and, in the case of the Digital 395 project, a federal broadband stimulus grant.

Combined, the two towns have 444 homes which do not have access to broadband service at the CPUC’s minimum standard of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. Originally, another 125 homes in Coleville – four miles to the north of Walker – was included in the proposal, but was removed because Frontier Communications had exercised its right of first refusal under CASF rules, and promised to upgrade the town. As a result, Coleville will be left out of the FTTH project.

People living in Bridgeport and Walker, though, will be able to buy symmetrical gigabit service for $100 a month, as well as tiers at slower speeds, starting at $25 per month for symmetrical 25 Mbps service.

The Gigafy North 395 project was proposed by Race almost two years ago, on 31 December 2014. The CPUC is expected to vote on it at its 1 December 2016 meeting. At that point, it will be nearly 600 days late – CASF rules, as approved by the commission, set a 106 day deadline for staff to process a grant application and either reject it or get it in front of commissioners for a vote. Even if you start the clock counting from the point where the Frontier-served homes in Coleville were pulled out, the resolution is still more than a year overdue. Welcome, but overdue.