Cable preps to defend its monopoly grip on California’s poor in court

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

What fun would it be if they had a choice?

Charter Communications is doubling down on the public tantrum it’s throwing over broadband access in public housing. The California Public Utilities Commission runs a program that pays for broadband facilities – but not the service itself – in publicly subsidised communities. The program was created by the legislature three years ago, and was the result of joint efforts by rural and urban interests – $90 million was added to the California Advanced Services Fund, with a net $25 million going toward public housing broadband and the rest into broadband infrastructure projects.

The language of the bill was very clear. The CPUC had the job of setting most of the requirements for public housing subsidies, with only a couple of legislative mandates: back haul had to be available and the property owner couldn’t have turned away competitive providers who might have been interested in installing their own facilities, at their own cost.

Public housing operators began applying for broadband facilities grants, in some cases for properties where commercial providers – cable companies, mostly – were selling Internet access at market rates that residents couldn’t afford. At least not by the rules that govern eligibility for public housing. The CPUC, using the discretion given it by the legislature, said okay.

There was a storm of opposition from cable companies and their lobbying fronts, including a petulant letter from Charter and ethically dubious last minute phone calls to commissioners. But the commission voted to go ahead with the grants, anyway.

Usually, that would be the end of it. But cable company anger over being denied monopoly rights to extract as much money as humanly possible out of the shallow pockets of public housing residents is anything but usual.

Charter filed a request for the commission to reconsider its decision, claiming, incorrectly, that the decision was illegal. The long and lawyerly document is marginally less peevish than Charter’s earlier letter, but doesn’t plough new ground. Absent political arm twisting, there’s no reason for the commission to change its mind.

Why do it then? If Charter wants to challenge public housing broadband subsidies in court, it has to go through the motions of asking for a rehearing. That seems to be where it’s headed.