California broadband infrastructure subsidy reboot ready for CPUC vote

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The flurry of comments and rebuttals about proposed changes to California’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program – the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) – resulted in a few changes, generally for the better. A revised draft decision was published yesterday, ahead of a scheduled vote by the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday.

Comcast’s and Charter Communications’ lobbying front organisation – the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA) – was rebuffed in its attempt to open up proposed CASF-funded projects to an eternity of challenges.

The revised draft emphasises that “there is only one opportunity to challenge a project” by demonstrating that existing service in the proposed area meets the California legislature’s pathetic minimum standard of 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. That single challenge period ends five weeks after an application is submitted. CPUC staff has two weeks to post the application on the commission’s website and then incumbents have three weeks to try to kill it, if they think it threatens their monopolies. The one exception is if area is added to the proposed project during the review process, and then only the new territory is vulnerable to attack.

The revisions also put some additional streamlining in the review process, which has dragged on for more than two years in some cases. Any request for $10 million or less can be approved by staff, without having to be voted on by commissioners. The first draft had a $5 million limit. Most of the projects proposed over the past few years would have been comfortably below the new limit.

Incumbents are also opposed to a low income subscription option. The draft would subsidise an additional 10% of project costs – the baseline is 60% – if a $15 dollar a month package is offered to qualifying low income household. The cable lobbyists were joined by AT&T, Frontier Communications and a group of small rural telephone companies in objecting to it. Again, all they got for their troubles was a clearer statement of what the CPUC expects in return for giving them taxpayer money: “the low-income service offering must be offered throughout the entire project area and must meet all of the CASF performance criteria”.

At this point, a favorable vote by commissioners on Thursday is looking more likely. Yesterday, the draft was moved to Thursday’s consent agenda, which means it won’t even be debated. Assuming nothing changes (a reasonable, if not completely safe, assumption) it’ll be automatically approved along with a couple dozen other items in a single, bulk vote.

Revision 1 of proposed decision of commissioner Guzman Aceves, implementing the California Advanced Services Fund infrastructure account revised rules, 10 December 2018 (changes highlighted).

Revised appendix, 10 December 2018 (changes highlighted).

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

For more background information, click here.

I’ve been involved in the debate over the CASF program, and in assisting with project proposals since 2009. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.