I participated on a broadband funding panel, organised by the California Broadband Council at its meeting last week. Other panelists included telephone and cable industry representatives and a wireless Internet service provider. Much of the discussion was about the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) – the state’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program – and how it interacts with other sources of funding, public and private.
The cable industry’s principal lobbyist in Sacramento, Carolyn McIntyre, tried to paint a false picture of how CASF has impacted broadband service and usage in California, claiming that only 4,000 new customers have signed up for service as a result of subsidised projects. That’s bunk, to put it politely. I pointed out that she was conflating middle mile and last mile projects, and then ignoring the tens of thousands – or more – of cable and telephone customers who have received upgraded or completely new service because incumbents have been able to take advantage of cheap and plentiful wholesale bandwidth.
The prime example is the Digital 395 project in eastern California. Several independent last mile projects have grown from it, but primarily in small, isolated communities. The project’s biggest impact is being felt in larger towns such as Mammoth Lakes, where Suddenlink – the incumbent cable company – plugged into the network and simply flipped a switch to increase broadband speeds by a factor of ten. For the same price. Similar stories can be found in towns along the route served by Verizon, Frontier and Charter – whether via direct access to cheap bandwidth or out of a justifiable fear of new competition, incumbents improve consumer service and value propositions when open access middle mile fiber rolls into town.