A skeptical eye finds more broadband opportunities

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

The California Public Utilities Commission collects a mountain of data from Internet service providers, and does a good job of sorting it out and publishing it in a very accessible way. But as a state regulatory agency, the CPUC can’t arbitrarily decide which claims it’ll believe and which it’ll discount. So it runs tests.

Ryan Dulin, the head of the CPUC division that regulates telecoms companies and manages broadband infrastructure subsidies through the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), demonstrated how that works for mobile broadband, running a speed test on his Verizon service during his presentation at a broadband conference for local government officials. The result was 4 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. Which is just a teeny bit different from the service report Verizon submitted to the commission, claiming it delivers somewhere between 10 Mbps and 25 Mbps download speeds in Riverside, where the event – organised by the California Emerging Technology Fund – was held this week.

It highlighted the need to drill further down into the data and do on-site verification, if local agencies and independent Internet service providers want to pursue CASF-subsidised broadband projects. When my turn to speak came, I showed how a couple of analytical techniques that I’ve helped develop – along with colleagues from several regional broadband consortia – that highlights where local broadband gaps and opportunities can be found.

One was the broadband report card analysis I initially ran for the East Bay Broadband Consortium, which grades the broadband infrastructure in neighborhoods, cities and counties on an A-B-C-D-F scale. The other was a broadband opportunity heat map, which highlights areas that are eligible for CASF funding according to population density – from red, which means lots of potential customers, down to green which means not so much. The Central Coast Broadband Consortium was the first to use that technique to identify broadband development priority areas.

The key is to focus on primary wireline network operators – incumbent cable and telephone companies, mostly – and ignore, at least initially, what wireless companies and resellers claim to deliver. That helps policy makers and entrepreneurs figure out what’s actually on the poles and in the ground, and set priorities for broadband investment.