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

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

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
ProjectApplicant                          Challenged by
2Bella VistaCharter CommunicationsDigital Path, ShastaBeam
1Kingswood EstatesCharter CommunicationsExwire
1Butte YubaDigital PathSucceed
1Fresno CountyDigital PathComcast
2Glenn CountyDigital PathComcast, Succeed
2Lake CountyDigital PathMediacom, North Coast
1Mendocino CountyDigital PathNorth Coast
1Plumas LassenDigital PathFrontier
1Sacramento CountyDigital PathFrontier
1Sutter PlacerDigital PathSucceed
1Tehama CountyDigital PathCharter
2Central Coast BroadbandEtheric NetworksCharter, Razzolink
1Kingswood WestExwireCharter
1Crescent CityFrontier CommunicationsCharter
1CuyamaFrontier CommunicationsGeolinks
1GarbervilleFrontier Communications101Netlink
2HerlongFrontier CommunicationsDigital Path, Plumas Sierra
1Lake IsabellaFrontier CommunicationsGeolinks
2Mad RiverFrontier Communications101Netlink, Velocity
2Northeast Phase 2Frontier CommunicationsDigital Path, Geolinks
2PiercyFrontier Communications101Netlink, Willits Online
5Mendocino CountyHunter Communications101Netlink, Comcast, Frontier, North Coast, Willits Online
1Buckeye/BannerNevada County FiberDigital Path
1Long ValleyPlumas Sierra TelecomsDigital Path
1Mohawk ValleyPlumas Sierra TelecomsDigital Path
1PortolaPlumas Sierra TelecomsDigital Path
1Scott RoadPlumas Sierra TelecomsGeolinks
1Sierra ValleyPlumas Sierra TelecomsDigital Path
3Southern LassenPlumas Sierra TelecomsDigital Path, Frontier, Geolinks
1Gigafy ArbuckleRace TelecommunicationsFrontier
2Gigafy Nevada CityRace TelecommunicationsCalnet, Digital Path
4Gigafy WilliamsRace TelecommunicationsComcast, Digital Path, Frontier, Succeed
2Sonoma/NapaWeb PerceptionComcast, Valley Internet
3West Sonoma CountyWiConduitComcast, 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.