Cable, fiber systems deliver broadband service at or near advertised speeds, DSL generally doesn’t, FCC report says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Fcc 2018 broadband report download

The FCC’s primary broadband metric is now the 80/80 benchmark: the minimum speed that 80% of users experience, 80% of the time during primetime viewing hours. When evaluated against that benchmark, cable modem and fiber-to-the-home systems do a reasonably good job of delivering service at advertised speeds. Among Californian providers, only Comcast fell noticeably short, with actual download speeds hitting around 90% of what they promise.

Telco DSL-based service doesn’t do so well. According to the FCC’s latest field tests, AT&T’s and Frontier Communications’ legacy DSL services – the kind you often find in rural California – deliver speeds that are about 60% of what they promise. AT&T’s advanced DSL systems – the upgraded kind that go into high potential neighborhoods – score around 90%.

On the upload side, cable and fiber providers generally meet or exceed their promised speed levels, but telco copper systems do even worse, again with the exception of AT&T’s upgraded systems.

Fcc 2018 broadband report upload

People use Internet service differently now than they did seven years ago, so the Federal Communications Commission added consistency metrics to its annual report on broadband performance in the U.S. It’s an acknowledgement that a steady stream of data, to support online video viewing, is more important than the occasional bursts of speed that old school web browsing requires…

We found that for most ISPs, actual speeds experienced by subscribers nearly meet or exceed advertised service tier speeds. However, since we started our MBA program, consumers have changed their Internet usage habits. In 2011, consumers mainly browsed the web and downloaded files; thus, we reported average speeds since they were likely to closely mirror user satisfaction. By contrast, by September 2016, the measurement period for this report, many consumers streamed video for entertainment and education. Both the median measured speed and how consistently the service performs are likely to influence the perception and usefulness of Internet access service.

The FCC bundled all of its telecoms and media research – wireline and mobile broadband, and video – into one giant data dump. The report includes a well-deserved shout out to the CalSpeed mobile broadband speed testing program. It’s run by the California Public Utilities Commission and even the FCC considers it a valuable and independent source of information about what mobile carriers (and, soon, wireline ISPs) actually deliver.

Much of the data was held back by the FCC for up to two years. John Brodkin has a good write up on that problem in Ars Technica. Ajit Pai won’t explain why this is the first time the broadband speed and availability analysis was released since he became FCC chair.

In some ways, Pai is remarkably open about FCC deliberations compared to his predecessors. He routinely releases draft decisions three weeks before commissioners vote. In the past, drafts were kept out of the public eye, although lobbyists with sufficiently deep pockets always seemed to know what was coming. But Pai is also cagey about what he releases, holding back this latest round of broadband data, as well as details regarding the millions of apparently bogus emails uploaded to FCC servers during the net neutrality debate.

Commissioners are scheduled to formally adopt the findings at their meeting on Wednesday.

FCC Communications Marketplace Report Collected Appendices, 4 December 2018 (this is the big document with the interesting data)

FCC draft Communications Marketplace Report, 21 November 2018

Cable to defend Californian monopolies with attacks on independent projects

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Comcast, Charter Communications and other cable companies are demanding the right “to challenge each and every application” for broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Their lobbying front organisation, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA), made their perpetual litigation plans clear in a new round of comments on the California Public Utilities Commission’s plan to reboot the program.

The cable companies also want to be able to block independent projects by cherrypicking homes and neighborhoods census blocks using the right of the first night right of first refusal given to them by the lawmakers they’ve generously funded in return. CCTA called universal service requirements advocated by other organisations “especially unreasonable”.

Like the cable lobbyists, AT&T repeated many of it previous arguments in its comments. But it did make one statement about funding middle mile facilities that is both true and useful for developing economically viable broadband projects…

If a CASF applicant and middle-mile provider cannot agree on access rates, terms, and conditions through arm’s-length negotiation, that alone is evidence that the middle-mile provider’s proposed rates, terms, and conditions are not commercially acceptable for the project at issue, and that building middle-mile infrastructure is “indispensable” to the project.

Middle mile infrastructure that connects local, last mile networks to central Internet hubs, such as those found in Silicon Valley, is essential. Incumbents – AT&T included – have used their control over those choke points to keep broadband prices high and competitors out. The CPUC should subsidise more middle mile fiber construction whenever possible, but that money should come with the same strings attached to last mile projects: grant recipients should offer it on the open market at published rates.

Several other groups submitted comments, also mostly restating earlier positions. The North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium weighed in for the first time, urging the commission to hold incumbents accountable when they exercise a right of first refusal but don’t build out, and to give priority to projects that offer faster broadband speeds than the pathetic 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload service that the California legislature agreed to subsidise.

North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium
CPUC Public Advocates Office (formerly known as the office of ratepayer advocates)
Greenlining Institute
TURN

AT&T
California Cable and Telecommunications Association (lobbyists for Comcast, Charter and other cable companies)
California Emerging Technology Fund
Geolinks
Race Telecommunications
Small Local Exchange Carriers (small, rural telcos)

Links to other documents – decisions on other issues, drafts, comments and more – are here.

Stark contrast between PG&E, SCE decisions and SDG&E’s wildfire prevention actions

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Sdge berg electric

Turning off electric power lines in dry, windy conditions is one way to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. The California Public Utilities Commission is about to start the wheels turning on an investigation into how and when that should be done. Optimistically, the draft order instituting rulemaking predicts that it’ll be wrapped up sometime next summer.

Last summer, the CPUC allowed Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and a handful of smaller “investor owned” electric utilities to do the same kind of proactive de-energisation that San Diego Gas and Electric has been allowed to do since 2008. It’s too early to conclude whether their subsequent efforts did any good, but the hazy picture we have now indicates that there is considerable room for improvement, by utilities and their customers:

Turning power off is relatively simple. Turning it back on is not. Lines have to be inspected first, and re-energising has to be done systematically and carefully. Even absent nimby whining, it’s not something to be done casually. But there is a clear contrast between the decisions made by PG&E and SCE ahead of the Camp and Woolsey fires, and the actions taken by SDG&E.

As governor Jerry Brown aptly put it, California’s wildfire disasters are the “new abnormal”. The CPUC should consider how best to cope with this new reality, but utilities – electric and telecoms – should not wait. It’s time to revise the playbook.

Consumer privacy law is back in play in Sacramento

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Sf naked the streets

Monday’s brief meeting of the California legislature didn’t produce any broadband-related bills, with the possible exception of a placeholder introduced by assemblyman Ed Chau (D – Los Angeles). Assembly bill 25 would amend the privacy bill that California lawmakers passed in 2018, but it doesn’t say how.

California’s new privacy law puts tight restrictions on how online companies can use customer data, and how they have to safeguard it. Chau was the author of that bill, which was passed as part of a deal to keep an even tougher privacy initiative off of the November ballot. But what the legislature gives, it can also take away. A coalition of various kinds of advocacy groups sent a letter to lawmakers on Monday, asking them to strengthen the law, and resist attempts to change it…

Irresponsible data practices lead to a broad range of harms, including discrimination in employment, health care, and advertising, data breaches, and loss of individual control over personal information. Technology practices and resulting concerns can limit adoption and use of new technology such as internet-connected devices, threaten e-commerce, and even decrease democratic engagement and speech. Many individuals do not understand and are worried about how their information is used or shared online. They feel that they have lost control of their data and they want government to protect them.

Whether or not consumers are really clamouring for more government protection is an open question. But there doesn’t seem to be much interest in having less, except among the telecoms and online services companies that opposed California’s new privacy law. Some of those companies give millions of dollars to lawmakers, and particularly to senators and assembly members that sit on key committees in Sacramento. With the help of those friend, their lobbyists are adept at carving up laws they don’t like. Chau’s new bill needs to be watched carefully.

Urban or rural, the need for broadband speed is the same for all in the Monterey Bay region

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

MBEP regional broadband speed survey results

To run a business, do homework and enjoy the benefits of our digital economy, broadband service that runs at 100 Mbps download/20 Mbps upload speeds is a necessity for everyone. That’s the conclusion of a year-long study by the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) and the Central Coast Broadband Consortium.

The report was presented last Friday at MBEP’s 2018 State of the Region event in Seaside. It was based on the work of the broadband leadership team recommended by participants at the 2017 conference and recruited by MBEP earlier this year. The team conducted a survey of residents and businesses in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.

The key finding is that broadband needs are the same whether people live or work in a well-served urban area or a poorly – or even unserved – rural community.

The result was unexpected. The study’s underlying hypothesis was that the region’s diverse economy and communities would have an equally diverse range of broadband needs. As it turned out, there was little difference in the responses from high tech, agricultural or home-based business sectors, or from consumers anywhere.

In retrospect, the findings made perfect sense: a rancher in Bitterwater uses the same cloud-based business tools as a game developer in Santa Cruz, their families watch the same video programs, and their kids do the same homework and take the same online tests.

Federal and state broadband standards do not meet that need. Broadband subsidy programs run by the federal government set 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps speeds up as a minimum, although providers who deliver significantly slower service in rural areas can still receive funding. California’s primary broadband subsidy program, the California Advanced Services Fund, considers speeds as low as 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up to be sufficient for urban and rural communities alike.

Businesses and households in the Monterey Bay region are also willing to pay for better service…

When asked about ideal download and upload speeds, 63% of business respondents stated they would like to have 100 Mbps or higher download and 61% stated they would like to have 25 Mbps or higher upload. 69% of these businesses said they would be willing to pay $70 or more per month.

50% of respondents in the consumer survey stated that they would like to have download speeds of 100 Mbps or more. 66% of consumers said they were willing to pay $40 to $99 a month for their ideal speeds.

The MBEP survey data was backed up by a separate broadband needs survey run by the County of Santa Cruz and quarterbacked by broadband leadership team member Zach Friend, who is a Santa Cruz County supervisor.

The question addressed at this year’s conference was how do we achieve the goal of making 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up broadband service ubiquitous in the region? Participants, who represented local governments, Internet service providers, businesses and non-profit organisations, identified better access to capital, greater public-private cooperation and proactive local broadband development policies as the team’s 2019 objectives.

Achieving Ubiquitous Broadband Coverage in the Monterey Bay Region, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership and Central Coast Broadband Consortium, November 2018.

Monterey Bay Region Broadband Leadership Team

  • Ray Corpuz, City of Salinas
  • Peggy Dolgenos, Cruzio
  • John Freeman, City of San Juan Bautista
  • Zach Friend, County of Santa Cruz
  • Chris Frost, Cruzio
  • James Hackett, Cruzio
  • Matt Huffaker, City of Watsonville
  • Mary Ann Leffel, MCBC
  • Chip Lenno, CSUMB
  • Maureen McCarty, Assemblymember Mark Stone’s office
  • René Mendez, City of Gonzales
  • Andy Myrick, City of Salinas
  • Larry Samuels, CSUMB
  • Brad Smith, UCSC
  • Jim Warner, UCSC
  • Steve Blum, Tellus Venture Associates
  • Freny Cooper, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership
  • Kate Roberts, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership

Plan to allow electric utilities to pass on 2018 wildfire costs to customers is on hold

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Any help with wildfire liability that major electric companies might be expecting from the California legislature will wait until next month. Assemblyman Chris Holden (D – Los Angeles) didn’t introduce his planned bill when the legislature met briefly to swear in new members and open the new session. Holden had planned to, at a minimum, allow Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison to add damage costs to customers’ bills for 2018 wildfires. The legislature voted in August to allow them to pass on those costs to consumers for fires in 2017 and 2019 and beyond. But not for this year.

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times by John Myers, there’s significant opposition to offering PG&E, in particular, a helping hand….

“I’m very concerned,” Holden said. “I think there are a very fragile set of circumstances.”

Critics, however, are poised to pounce. Some believe the timing is inappropriate, so soon after the catastrophic Camp fire in Butte County. Others see the effort as tantamount to punishing utility customers — particularly those of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. — through higher bills.

“All of this conversation is premature,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill (D – San Mateo), a frequent PG&E critic. “There is a major cost to ratepayers that I think is outrageous.”

That cost will run into the billions of dollars, assuming that early indications that point to PG&E electric transmission lines as the cause of the disastrous Camp Fire in Butte County turn out to be true. The way California law works, if a utility – electric or telecoms – is even partly to blame for starting a fire, then it’s responsible for the entire cost. Earlier this year, lawmakers rejected utility requests to change that.

The legislature reconvenes in January, which is the next opportunity for Holden and Hill, who has talked about bringing PG&E’s service territory under direct state control, to move ahead with new bills.

AT&T rep says 5G is only for infill in rural California, and she’s probably telling the truth

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Salinas windmill cell site

AT&T doesn’t plan to deploy 5G networks in rural California. According to AT&T staff lobbyist Alice Perez, small cell sites will be used for “infill” purposes in rural communities, to supplement big macro sites.

Those infill small cells might even be limited to 4G capability, and not use 5G technology. Her comments came while she was dampening 5G expectations. Any kind of cell site can be small, and she was quite keen about 4G systems, such as AT&T’s planned public safety network – FirstNet – and “voice over LTE”, which AT&T still hopes will be a replacement for copper-based Plain Old Telephone Service in rural areas.

Perez spoke last Thursday at Valley Vision’s Capital Region Broadband Summit in Rancho Cordova. So did I, presenting an analysis of broadband infrastructure in Sacramento County.

For the record, 5G is not an “infill” technology. It certainly can be used for that purpose, like you can use a semi-truck to drive to the store to pick up a six pack. But 5G is about increasing broadband capacity many times over via densified networks and newer technology. And it’s about creating a platform that can support many different types of applications and system architectures on a single network, aka “network slicing”. Without a critical mass of 5G infrastructure, none of that is possible. All you’ll accomplish is to knock a couple of dead spots out of 4G coverage.

AT&T will deploy genuine 5G networks over time, but only in communities with a sufficient number of high potential customers. Perez underscored that reality when she listed the communities where AT&T is in the process of negotiating agreements to attach small cells, of whatever sort, to streetlight poles and other municipal property: all were comfortably within the Sacramento region’s urban/suburban core.

It should not be a surprise that AT&T has no intention of putting true 5G infrastructure in rural areas. As Perez pointed out, decisions about where to build are based on AT&T’s expected return on investment.

Concentrated 5G cellular networks, and the equally dense fiber deployments needed to support them, will only happen where customers are concentrated and the money to be had is equally dense.

Comcast and Charter fight for right to charge “exorbitant prices” for broadband connectivity

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Comcast’s and Charter Communications’ lobbying front in Sacramento – the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA) – doesn’t want the California Public Utilities Commission to require companies that receive broadband infrastructure subsidies to make any commitments about the prices consumers will be charged, or to offer an “affordable broadband plan for low income customers”.

In comments they submitted regarding the CPUC’s proposed reboot of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) broadband infrastructure subsidy program, the cable lobbyists claimed that the requirements – some of which have been in place for many years – are illegal.

The lobbyists also told the CPUC that it can’t limit Charter’s and Comcast’s right to charge “exorbitant prices” for middle mile connectivity and, in the process, block competition by independent broadband providers.

CCTA objected to a new rule that would allow streamlined review of middle mile proposals in “a situation where a provider…only offers service at exorbitant prices”. Their claim is that “affordability” has nothing to do with the “availability” of middle mile service.

Bullshit.

Middle mile service links a local broadband provider – aka the “last mile” – to a major hub, such as a data center in Silicon Valley, where interconnections between networks are thick and the magic of the Internet happens. If an independent Internet service provider wants to build a last mile network in a poorly served community, the middle mile connectivity problem has to be solved in way that makes economic sense. When incumbents, like Charter, Comcast, AT&T or Frontier, kill an independent’s business model by jacking up middle mile prices – as they are allowed to do – they are deliberately making that service unavailable.

CCTA also continued to argue for the right to perpetually and continually challenge proposed projects. Derailing project applications with late challenges, sometimes based on false claims, is a tried and true tactic that incumbents use to protect their monopolies in communities where 1. their service is poor, and 2. so are residents.

The cable companies have never liked the CASF infrastructure subsidy program, and they have handed bags of cash offered cerebral arguments against it to California’s lawmakers in largely successful attempts to cripple it.

CCTA’s comments are worth reading as a reminder of why the CASF program was created in the first place.

Links to CASF reboot documents – decisions on other issues, drafts, comments and more – are here.

I drafted and submitted the comments filed by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Telcos, cable companies should face consequences for filing false California broadband data

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

AT&T, Frontier Communications, Charter Communications and Comcast have to file reports with the Federal Communications Commission detailing where they offer broadband service, how fast it is and what technology they use. The California Public Utilities Commission uses that information, along with other sources of data, to determine if particular areas or communities are eligible for broadband infrastructure subsidies, via the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) program.

The CPUC is rewriting the rules for those subsidies, as a result of the generosity of California lawmakers who rigged CASF so that big, monopoly model telecoms companies get a shot at hogging all the cash.

The availability data that those incumbents provide is of dubious quality. It’s largely based on marketing claims, and not on actual speed tests or subscriber information. The CPUC’s proposed new rules highlight comments that I drafted and filed in May on behalf of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium in which we called out, as an example, obviously false data that AT&T submitted about fiber to the home service.

The CPUC draft diplomatically attributes AT&T’s false reports to “miscoding”. We filed comments last week suggesting that this isn’t the time to be speculating on AT&T’s motives or possible excuses for giving the CPUC and the FCC bad information…

We did not attribute this false data to miscoding. AT&T has established “AT&T Fiber” as an “umbrella brand” which includes technology such as “the former AT&T GigaPower network” which does not, in all regards, meet the Form 477 definition of “fiber to the home or business end user”. It is reasonable to posit a connection between AT&T’s brand positioning and its Form 477 submissions.

In its comments, Race Communications, which has received several CASF grants to build FTTH systems in rural communities, urged the CPUC to hold companies accountable for their data…

The [proposed decision] properly notes that these errors have major consequences for the CASF program, because corrections are time-consuming for the Communications Division Staff, and errors cause confusion and frustration for communities and CASF applicants who must rely on the maps for eligibility decisions. Race contends that the Commission should take a more aggressive enforcement stance if data is consistently provided to the Commission that is erroneous and/or overstated by a particular existing provider. Providing erroneous data on coverage is a [CPUC rule] violation and should be treated as such.

The rule in question says that AT&T – and everyone else who does business with the CPUC – must agree “never to mislead the Commission or its staff by an artifice or false statement of fact or law”.

Just so.

Links to CASF reboot documents – decisions on other issues, drafts, comments and more – are here.

AT&T, Frontier tell CPUC to loosen broadband subsidy rules for them, but make it harder for everyone else

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The arm wrestling over how California should manage its primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program – the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) – is nearly complete. Ten organisations filed comments on a draft of new rules offered by commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves last month. The rewrite is necessary because the California legislature changed the way CASF is structured, giving incumbent telcos – particularly AT&T and Frontier Communications – privileged access to the money and another layer of protection from independent providers that propose to offer modern levels of broadband service to rural communities. Not surprisingly, AT&T and Frontier want the CPUC to make it easier for them to scoop up taxpayer money and harder for everyone else.

AT&T urges the commission to loosen the draft rules so it can get 100% subsidies for infrastructure wherever it wants – the CPUC’s draft would target low income communities and areas with nothing but dial-up service for full funding. The company also claims that it’s illegal for the commission to consider whether there are any existing subscribers in an area before deciding that it’s eligible for subsidies. A provider’s claim that it offers broadband service at particular speeds should be enough, AT&T argues.

Frontier added an amen to those prayers, saying in its comments that it “opposes setting specific criteria linked to funding levels” and that the commission should take its word for what service it offers.

Both companies also object to a requirement that they update the CPUC on the progress they’re making on federally subsidised broadband upgrades. The state law that they paid key lawmakers big bucks for convinced public-spirited legislators to pass gives them an exclusive right to Californian subsidies in those areas for a couple of years, if they actually do the promised work. How dare the CPUC ask them if they’re meeting those obligations?

A coalition of rural telephone companies – small, often locally owned incumbent providers that serve remote communities – echoed some of those comments. They, too, object to the use of actual subscriber data to validate marketing claims and to the requirement for a reduced cost plan for low income households.

The lobbying front organisation that pushes Comcast’s and Charter Communications’ agenda at the CPUC as well as at the state capitol also filed comments – I’ll have more to say about that on Monday.

There’s one more round of reply comments due next week, then commissioners will vote on the final draft. That could happen in a couple of weeks, at their next meeting on 13 December 2018.

Central Coast Broadband Consortium
CPUC Public Advocates Office (formerly known as the office of ratepayer advocates)
TURN and Greenlining Institute joint comments
AT&T
California Cable and Telecommunications Association (lobbyists for Comcast, Charter and other cable companies)
California Emerging Technology Fund
Frontier Communications
Geolinks
Race Telecommunications
Small Local Exchange Carriers (small, rural telcos)

Links to other documents – decisions on other issues, drafts, comments and more – are here.

I drafted and submitted the comments filed by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.