Tag Archives: cpuc

Differing views offered on how California should measure broadband success

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The back-and-forth continues over how California’s broadband subsidy programs – grouped under the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) – should be redesigned. Earlier this week, six organisations filed rebuttals to the initial round of comments made last month.

Much of the debate is over how results should be measured and to what degree the organisations that get CASF money should be held accountable for those results. It’s a complicated problem. The answer will largely depend on whether the California Public Utilities Commission reckons “broadband adoption” to be a goal defined by marketing principles – which is where the term comes from and where success is measured by the number of new subscribers – or simply an educational activity.

The CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates was among those doing some rhetorical counter-punching this week, but one jab went wild. They misread the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s (CCBC) comment regarding minimum speed levels, and mistakenly thought it applied to adoption programs. It doesn’t.

(Full disclosure: I drafted and submitted those comments).

Instead, the CCBC’s recommendation is to set a minimum speed for broadband facilities that are installed in public housing communities and paid for by CASF grants, which is a separate program. Under the current rules, CASF-funded broadband systems installed in public housing only have to deliver 1 Mbps download speeds, with no upload requirement. We argued that people who live in public housing deserve the same consideration from CASF as anyone else, and funded facilities should at least meet the pitiful 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps construction standard required elsewhere (the eligibility minimum – 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up – is even worse). Ideally, there should be incentives for projects to meet the standard set by the federal agriculture department and the Federal Communications Commission – 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up – or better.

So far, the CPUC has asked for recommendations and rebuttals regarding the CASF public housing and adoption programs (and the shut down of the infrastructure loan account). Comments on the big money program – the $300 million infrastructure grant account – are due later this month.

Phase 1 Reply Comments – filed 2 April 2018

AT&T
California Cable and Telecommunications Association
California Emerging Technology Fund
North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium
Office of Ratepayer Advocates
The Utility Reform Network and the Greenlining Institute

Click here to see California Public Utilities Commission documents, public comments and reply comments, and other information regarding the 2017-2018 overhaul of California Advanced Services Fund programs.

San Francisco court punts net neutrality decision back to D.C.

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It was nice while it lasted, but Washington, D.C.’s inexorable gravity has pulled the court fight over network neutrality – or lack thereof – away from San Francisco and back inside the Beltway.

Originally, a judicial lottery determined that the fifteen challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to roll back network neutrality and broadband status as a common carrier service would be heard by the federal ninth circuit appeals court in San Francisco, where Santa Clara County and the California Public Utilities Commission filed their cases. The prospect of the future of net neutrality being decided in the shadow of Silicon Valley was delicious, but not for the D.C.-based groups that made up the bulk of the challengers. So they asked for the consolidated cases to be moved back to D.C…

Transfer is warranted by all of the factors considered by this Court, including the convenience of the parties, the choice of forum made by the majority of the petitioners, and the fact that this Court’s sister Court for the D.C. Circuit has considered virtually identical issues in inter-related proceedings. Specifically, this case is the fourth, “follow-on” phase in the review of the Federal Communications Commission’s “network neutrality” actions; all prior phases have been adjudicated by the D.C. Circuit. That Court has issued four decisions in these prior three proceedings, variously affirming, or disagreeing with, the FCC’s actions. Transfer is warranted in the interest of continuity.

Santa Clara County and the CPUC didn’t support the request, but they didn’t oppose it either and the ninth circuit approved the transfer.

One of the first issues that the D.C. appeals court will likely decide is whether or not to put the FCC’s net neutrality repeal on hold while the cases are being heard. In past net neutrality cases, the D.C. court declined to do so.

Charter’s numbers don’t add up, so New York adds a $1 million fine

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Charter Communications is playing numbers games with its build out obligations and the State of New York’s Public Service Commission is blowing the whistle. Not just stopping the game, but also assessing a $1 million penalty.

As in California, conditions were attached to New York’s approval of Charter’s purchase of Time Warner Cable. Those obligations include “the extension of Charter’s network to pass an additional 145,000 homes and businesses across the State”. Charter has four years to complete that build out and must steadily complete 25% of the job each year.

In January, Charter reported mission accomplished for 2017. But the New York PSC went out and ground truthed Charter’s claims of new homes passed, and found the numbers were inflated. Of the 43,000 homes that Charter said it reached with the required “line extensions”, 12,000 were in New York City which, according to the PSC, was already 100% covered…

In addition to the fact that these addresses have pre-existing network already serving their locations, supported by the lack of pole applications associated with any of these passings…the Commission explicitly stated in the Approval Order that Charter’s buildout was required to occur in “less densely populated and/or line extension areas.” New York City is not such an area.

Even in those less densely populated areas, Charter padded its claims, according to the PSC…

Staff advises that many of these claimed newly completed passings actually consisted of cable and equipment upgrades to existing cable plant. In other words, Charter replaced older cabling and equipment on a pole with newer cabling and equipment, but the location had already been passed by the cable network, oftentimes having been originally passed with cable network for years.

So the PSC crossed another 2,000 homes off the list. As a result, Charter was 8,000 homes short of its 37,000 home obligation and got whacked with a $1 million fine. And faces the threat of losing its New York cable franchises completely if it blows it again. As you might expect, Charter begs to differ, calling the PSC’s conclusions “baseless and legally suspect” and promising to fight the order.

State of New York Public Service Commission, Order to Show Cause, Joint Petition of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable, 19 March 2018.

FCC sets up rich exurb versus poor rural, urban debate over broadband subsidies

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Should low income areas be first in line for broadband subsidies? That’s a question that both the Federal Communications Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission are asking. The CPUC is considering giving priority for California Advanced Services Fund infrastructure grants to communities where median household income is at or below $49,200 a year.

The FCC floated that same idea last week. In the course of approving limits on allowable expenses for some subsidised rural broadband projects, it decided to take the next step and ask for public comment on possible approaches: giving eligible consumers a theoretical choice of providers through a voucher system, adding household income to the criteria for picking eligible areas, or even basing federal subsidies on a state’s ability to pay…

For example, should we target support not only to high-cost areas but low-income areas as well? Should we adopt means-testing within the high-cost program? Either approach could target support where it is needed most by focusing only on areas or consumers with lower household income. Should we award support for high-cost areas through a portable consumer subsidy or voucher? Would a voucher system increase the choices available to consumers? Should we target support to States with less ability to fund the deployment of broadband in rural areas? How should we identify States that are most in need of support, and how can we do so while avoiding perverse incentives? Are there other alternatives we should consider?

Two commissioners, who are usually on opposite sides of issues but sometimes find common ground, both support a means-tested approach to subsidies. Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Rielly – democrat and republican, respectively – began pushing for it last year.

For them, the question boils down to whether taxes on phone service – specifically earmarked for rural broadband subsidies – paid by people living in low income, urban areas should go towards upgrading broadband service in high income exurbs or resort communities. The FCC is asking the public to offer suggested answers.

Updated comments on California’s broadband subsidy program posted

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More comments are in about how broadband adoption programs should be funded by the California Public Utilities Commission. Or rather, I’ve found more comments – the filings from the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates (ORA) and the Central Sierra Connect regional broadband consortium landed in my spam folder last week.

It’s a chronic bug in the CPUC’s service list system. Anytime you submit something – comments, grant applications, motions, protests, whatever – regarding a formal CPUC proceeding, you have to send copies to anyone who’s signed up to be notified. That’s great in theory, but the practice of sending files to dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people all at once is sure to trip spam filters from time to time, both incoming and outgoing. I guess finding a fix is one more thing to put on the cosmic to-do list.

ORA suggests reexamining the $49,200 median household income benchmark for determining whether a community gets preference for being “low income”…

Since this income threshold applies to a family of four,26 it is not an appropriate metric for communities with significant numbers of single occupancy households or households with five or more people…

Moreover, because the cost of living in California varies so widely, an income of $49,200 could be considered low-income in some areas, but not in others…Although publicly available data are not available to determine whether California households earning between $40,000 and [$49,200] have low adoption rates, it is clear that households earning less than $40,000 have low adoption rates.

The City and County of San Francisco submitted revised comments, dropping is argument that funding levels for digital literacy and broadband access programs should be higher because Microsoft’s Windows system doesn’t include software for visually impaired users – turns out it does.

All the comments, including those newly unearthed, are below.

Regional Broadband Consortia
Central Coast Broadband Consortium
Central Sierra Connect
CSU Chico Geographical Information Center (Northeastern and Upstate California Connect Consortia)
Gold Country Broadband Consortium
North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium

Public Agency
City and County of San Francisco (revised comments)
Office of Ratepayer Advocates

Internet Service Providers
Bright Fiber Network, Inc.
California Cable and Telecommunications Association
Frontier Communications

Non Profit Organisations
California Emerging Technology Fund
Radio Bilingue, Inc.
Satellite Affordable Housing Associates
Tech Exchange
Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation
TURN

CPUC scoping memo and proposals
Scoping memo and ruling of assigned commissioner, Martha Guzman Aceves, CASF program changes, 14 February 2018
Appendix A, AB 1665 changes to CASF program
Appendix B, CPUC staff proposals for broadband adoption, public housing and loan programs
Appendix C, CPUC staff proposed changes for broadband infrastructure grant, line extension and regional broadband consortia programs

Frontier, cable lobbyists urge CPUC to cut them in on public housing, broadband adoption decisions

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Big telco and cable interests accounted for two of the fourteen organisations that commented on proposed changes to the California Advanced Services Fund’s (CASF) broadband subsidy program for public housing and the new digital literacy and broadband access grants that’ll be available later this year. Frontier Communications and cable lobbyists submitted their remarks on Friday. AT&T was silent.

The California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA), which is the lobbying front for Comcast, Charter Communications and other cable companies in California, wants the CPUC to better protect its members’ monopoly business model in public housing communities. Changes in the law – pushed by CCTA and cable company lobbyists – make it impossible to use CASF grants to install free WiFi in public housing properties where there’s cable service. Cable companies do offer low cost Internet service to people who qualify, as most, if not all, those who live in public housing do. But they also use those programs as opportunities to up sell residents into expensive, market rate TV (and broadband and phone) bundles.

To make sure that Charter and Comcast and the others can defend those walled gardens, CCTA’s comments recommend that the CPUC allow greater opportunities to challenge public housing grant proposals, even to the extent of knocking applications off the current fast track review process simply by raising “legitimate concerns”. Which can mean pretty much anything. Including digging around to see if applicants are using cable connections to feed WiFi hotspots, which is another of CCTA’s peeves.

Frontier’s comments can summed as give me the money. One recommendation is that adoption programs should be tied to, or at least prioritised for, CASF infrastructure projects. Which is convenient because last year’s legislative changes largely limit those grants to Frontier and AT&T. Other recommendations go sideways from there, asking the CPUC to hurry up and approve Frontier’s infrastructure project subsidies.

Reply comments – rebuttals or otherwise – are due 2 April 2018, and the CPUC is expected to decide how to move forward with the public housing and adoption grant programs sometime in June.

People who live in public housing deserve equal treatment from California broadband subsidy program

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Public housing property owners can get grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to install broadband facilities and serve residents. Hundreds of communities have taken advantage of it, despite churlish opposition from cable companies, particularly Charter Communications. The California Public Utilities Commission is revising the program, to bring it into line with new rules laid down by assembly bill 1665 last year.

The biggest change is to retroactively enforce restrictions, imposed by an earlier measure, senate bill 745, that require properties receiving grants to be “unserved”, which means that at least one residence lacks service at 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. That was done at the behest of cable lobbyists, who want to protect their turf, and the pricey TV and Internet bundles they sell on it, from the horrors of free WiFi.

It was a bad decision – one of many made by the legislators who voted for AB 1665 and the organisations, particularly the California Emerging Technology Fund, who backed it. But it’s a done deal and the CPUC has no choice but to adapt.

One change the CPUC should make is to raise the standard for subsidised broadband service in public housing communities that do qualify under the new rules. Right now, the CPUC allows subsidised public housing broadband projects to deliver download speeds as slow as 1.5 Mbps, with no requirement for upload performance. As I wrote in the formal comments I drafted for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and submitted to the CPUC on Friday, that’s not enough…

Californians who live in [publicly supported communities (PSCs)] have the same needs as Californians living elsewhere. Assembly bill 1665 set a minimum of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds for CASF- funded infrastructure projects. This level of service is below the 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload advanced services standard established by the Federal Communications Commission, adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its broadband funding programs, and contemplated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for its PSC broadband program. The CCBC recommends establishing the minimum speed standard for PSC facilities at the same 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up level that is required for other CASF-funded infrastructure projects, and establishing a priority for projects that meet the 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up standard.

Thirteen other organisations submitted comments on Friday, including public housing organisations and the California cable industry’s lobbying front. You can find them all here. Rebuttal filings are due in two weeks.

Comments on proposed changes to California’s broadband subsidy program posted

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Fourteen organisations offered comments on Friday regarding California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grant requirements and application procedures for public housing broadband facilities and for broadband adoption efforts, which are generally reckoned to be digital literacy classes and “broadband access” programs – i.e. computer centers, hotspots and free computers – programs. Suggestions for how the CASF broadband infrastructure loan program should be wound down were also submitted.

The new adoption grant program, and the revisions to the public housing and infrastructure loan programs were mandated by assembly bill 1665, which was approved by the California legislature and signed into law last year. It also made drastic changes to the way CASF subsidises broadband infrastructure projects, making independent broadband projects all but impossible to pursue and effectively turning the new $300 million account into a piggy bank for AT&T and Frontier Communications. Those new rules will be written later this year.

I’ll have more to say later about Friday’s filings. Full disclosure: I drafted and submitted the comments from the Central Coast Broadband Consortium – I’m as guilty as the rest. For now, you can find links to it all below – fine reading for a rainy weekend afternoon. Enjoy.

Comments on phase 1 (public housing, adoption and infrastructure loans – see appendix B below) of proposed changes to the California Advanced Services Fund program, filed on 16 March 2016:

Regional Broadband Consortia
Central Coast Broadband Consortium
CSU Chico Geographical Information Center (Northeastern and Upstate California Connect Consortia)
Gold Country Broadband Consortium
North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium

Public Agency
City and County of San Francisco

Internet Service Providers
Bright Fiber Network, Inc.
California Cable and Telecommunications Association
Frontier Communications

Non Profit Organisations
California Emerging Technology Fund
Radio Bilingue, Inc.
Satellite Affordable Housing Associates
Tech Exchange
Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation
TURN

CPUC scoping memo and proposals
Scoping memo and ruling of assigned commissioner, Martha Guzman Aceves, CASF program changes, 14 February 2018
Appendix A, AB 1665 changes to CASF program
Appendix B, CPUC staff proposals for broadband adoption, public housing and loan programs
Appendix C, CPUC staff proposed changes for broadband infrastructure grant, line extension and regional broadband consortia programs

FCC will have to defend net neutrality repeal in San Francisco

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The luck of the draw means the future of network neutrality and broadband’s status as a common carrier service will be argued in San Francisco. Credit for that is split between the California Public Utilities Commission and Santa Clara County, who filed separate challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to eliminate net neutrality rules and scrap common carrier obligations for broadband service with the ninth circuit federal appeals court.

Several other organisations filed their appeals in Washington, D.C., and a federal judicial panel randomly gave the job of consolidating and deciding the cases to the San Francisco-based ninth circuit.

Both the CPUC and Santa Clara County call the FCC’s decision “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion” and claim that it violates both the federal constitution and federal communications law. In other words, they’re challenging the way the decision was made rather than its substance. That’s an easier – which is not to say easy – case to make. Republican commissioners rushed the decision through, and might not have dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s. To put it mildly, democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel certainly thinks so – she called the FCC’s action a “rash decision” resulting from a “corrupt process”…

This decision and the process that brought us to this point is ugly. It’s ugly in the cavalier disregard this agency has demonstrated to the public, the contempt it has shown for citizens who speak up, and the disdain it has for popular opinion. Unlike its predecessors this FCC has not held a single public hearing on net neutrality.

There’s no shortage of Californians involved in the challenges to the FCC’s decision. California attorney general Xavier Becerra joined the appeal filed by his New York counterpart. Mozilla filed its own challenge. The Open Technology Institute and the Coalition for Internet Openness did too. Both list several Silicon Valley companies as major backers. OTI counts Google and Apple among its contributors (as well as Comcast and Charter, although I doubt this is what they signed up for).

CPUC vs. FCC, petition for review of order of agency, board, commission, or officer, 22 February 2018
County of Santa Clara vs. FCC, petition for review, 22 February 2018
Coalition for Internet Openess, petition for review, 5 March 2018
U.S. judicial panel on multidistrict litigation, in the matter of restoring internet freedom, consolidation order, 8 March 2018

Wrangling over electric company fiber continues at CPUC

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Both Southern California Edison and TURN, a consumer advocacy group, are lobbying the California Public Utilities Commission in the hope of pressing home their respective arguments about how much money generated from telecoms services, such as dark fiber leasing, privately owned electric companies can keep. The narrow issue that’s on the table is a master fiber lease agreement between SCE and Verizon that needs to be approved by the CPUC, but it could have far reaching effects on how, or even if, electric companies pursue telecoms opportunities and ultimately on the availability of independent long haul dark fiber in California.

SCE met with commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen last month, before he pulled his proposed decision off the commission’s agenda last week. As drafted, it would require SCE to give 75% of gross fiber leasing income to its electric customers, rather than the 10% that’s currently required. SCE told Rechtschaffen that “the proposed 25/75 shareholder/ratepayer revenue sharing mechanism would cause SCE to not pursue any opportunities under the [Verizon master lease agreement] because they would not be economically feasible”.

TURN made its case in a conference call with Rechtschaffen’s staff, saying that there’s no support for the claim that reducing SCE’s cut from 90% of gross revenue to 25% will discourage future investment. That’s an odd point to argue. When you take expenses into account – which all have to come out of that remaining 25% – there’s not much left over to generate a return on investment for shareholders. No return means no investment. No investment means no more competitive dark fiber will be built. Which perfectly suits the monopoly-centric business models of California’s major long haul fiber owners – AT&T, CenturyLink and, yes, Verizon.

There’s no way of knowing at this point if Rechtschaffen plans to make any changes to his draft, or if at least two other commissioner will go along with it at their next meeting on 22 March 2018.

My clients include Californian cities that have municipal electric utilities with fiber interests, and cities that just want better broadband. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.