14 ISPs try to block competitors’ broadband upgrades in rural California

9 June 2020 by Steve Blum
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Road closed 625

Update, 12 June 2020: I found another challenge that I missed the first time around. Valley Internet filed against Web Perception’s Sonoma/Napa project. Comcast also challenged it, so the count is still 34 projects out of 54 facing challenges, with a new total of 17 ISPs filing. I updated the list below, but the live list for CASF project tracking is here.

Update, 10 June 2020: A late notice, from Succeed, brings the total number of projects challenged to 34 out of 54, and the number of ISPs filing challenges to 16. The updated list is below. Going forward, I’ll be updating and tracking the project proposals and challenges here.

Update, 9 June 2020: Another challenge – by Exwire to Charter’s Kingswood Estates project – surfaced overnight. It’s now 15 ISPs challenging a total of 32 projects, with many of those projects facing multiple challenges.

More than half of the projects proposed for infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) were challenged yesterday. Competing Internet service providers submitted various claims regarding their broadband offerings in at least some of the project areas proposed for 31 of the 54 grant applications submitted in May.

Thanks to lobbying by big monopoly model incumbents, like AT&T and Comcast, and their non-profit fellow travellers, CASF money can’t pay for broadband upgrades if service in a particular place is already available at dismal 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds. There are other restrictions as well. The rules give ISPs a five week window to prepare and submit their challenges, and 14 did by the deadline. Or at least submitted public notifications that they did so. A summary and links to the filings are below. I’m not betting that the list is complete, though. Notifications, as opposed to the actual confidential filings, sometimes trickle in late.

Some of the challenges appear to be legitimate, but others range from petulant complaints to unenforceable promises of service Real Soon Now. Nine of the 14 challengers are wireless Internet service providers, including Digital Path, which submitted an even dozen protests, almost twice as many as any other ISP. Some of the challenges are based on the incorrect notion that areas that received money from the old federal Connect America Fund broadband subsidy program will be ineligible for CASF grants – that carve out is based on grant approvals, not application deadlines, and expires at the end of the month, long before any projects can be approved.

Three of the most prolific protestors – Charter Communications, Frontier Communications and Digital Path (Comcast is on that list too) – are also the companies that submitted the most project applications on their own behalf. AT&T did not challenge any projects, or at least hasn’t distributed public notifications to that effect.

California Public Utilities Commission staff have about five months to sort it all out. New procedures put into place last year only allow competitors one chance to block CASF funding for a broadband infrastructure project. Yesterday was it.

Links to the project proposals are here.

Challenges to CASF infrastructure grant applications, 8 June 2020

Number of
Project Applicant                           Challenged by
2 Bella Vista Charter Communications Digital Path, ShastaBeam
1 Kingswood Estates Charter Communications Exwire
1 Butte Yuba Digital Path Succeed
1 Fresno County Digital Path Comcast
2 Glenn County Digital Path Comcast, Succeed
2 Lake County Digital Path Mediacom, North Coast
1 Mendocino County Digital Path North Coast
1 Plumas Lassen Digital Path Frontier
1 Sacramento County Digital Path Frontier
1 Sutter Placer Digital Path Succeed
1 Tehama County Digital Path Charter
2 Central Coast Broadband Etheric Networks Charter, Razzolink
1 Kingswood West Exwire Charter
1 Crescent City Frontier Communications Charter
1 Cuyama Frontier Communications Geolinks
1 Garberville Frontier Communications 101Netlink
2 Herlong Frontier Communications Digital Path, Plumas Sierra
1 Lake Isabella Frontier Communications Geolinks
2 Mad River Frontier Communications 101Netlink, Velocity
2 Northeast Phase 2 Frontier Communications Digital Path, Geolinks
2 Piercy Frontier Communications 101Netlink, Willits Online
5 Mendocino County Hunter Communications 101Netlink, Comcast, Frontier, North Coast, Willits Online
1 Buckeye/Banner Nevada County Fiber Digital Path
1 Long Valley Plumas Sierra Telecoms Digital Path
1 Mohawk Valley Plumas Sierra Telecoms Digital Path
1 Portola Plumas Sierra Telecoms Digital Path
1 Scott Road Plumas Sierra Telecoms Geolinks
1 Sierra Valley Plumas Sierra Telecoms Digital Path
3 Southern Lassen Plumas Sierra Telecoms Digital Path, Frontier, Geolinks
1 Gigafy Arbuckle Race Telecommunications Frontier
2 Gigafy Nevada City Race Telecommunications Calnet, Digital Path
4 Gigafy Williams Race Telecommunications Comcast, Digital Path, Frontier, Succeed
2 Sonoma/Napa Web Perception Comcast, Valley Internet
3 West Sonoma County WiConduit Comcast, Digital Path, Frontier

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) supported Charter’s San Benito County proposal and assisted Etheric Networks with its application. The Connected Capital Area Broadband Consortium (CCABC) assisted DigitalPath. I assisted the CCBC and the CCABC, and also kibitzed on other projects. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.