California broadband subsidies set for CPUC vote, as Charter attempts last minute hit (but not on its own grants)

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

As of last night, all 11 broadband infrastructure projects tentatively approved for subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) are slated for a final vote by the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday. Arguments for and against the projects and grant conditions as drafted have also been filed. Links to (I think) all of the comments are below.

Frontier Communications made pitches for full funding of their projects as proposed, which were seconded by the California Emerging Technology Fund. Charter Communications made a similar plea, then went on to complain about two other projects – Frontier’s proposal for the Taft area of Kern County and Cruzio’s application for money to extend fiber to the premise service to several low income mobile home communities in Santa Cruz County.

Last June, Charter filed objections to both projects, claiming it already offered broadband service to the specific areas of the communities for which Cruzio and Frontier sought CASF subsidies. CPUC staff upheld some of Charter’s challenges and denied others. The new CASF rules adopted by the commission last year established a quick and transparent process for reviewing objections made by incumbents, which fixed a serious flaw in the CASF program – incumbents were allowed to endlessly challenge proposed projects that threatened their monopoly business models, right up to the eve of a commission vote.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium responded to Charter’s intransigence (full disclosure: I drafted and submitted those comments) by pointing out that allowing perpetual litigation would lead to failure…

Applicants must spend time and money, often amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, to prepare and process CASF infrastructure grant proposals. When faced with this significant expense, applicants must weigh it against the probability of success. Previously, the unlimited challenge opportunities afforded incumbent service providers acted as a significant barrier to independent project development. The experience of project applicants who hazarded this process convinced some to never attempt it again. After witnessing these travails, other independent service providers refused to participate in the program.

[The CPUC’s reboot of the CASF program] was wisely crafted to prevent de facto discrimination against independent service providers because their participation in the CASF program is essential to achievement of the program’s goals. Contravening [this decision] by allowing Charter to re-litigate its opposition to the Equal Access Santa Cruz project would, in turn, contravene the Commission’s responsibility to achieve those goals, as required by [California law].

We submitted largely identical comments regarding Frontier’s Taft project.

The CPUC’s public advocates office also weighed in, particularly concerning whether companies receiving grants should be required to offer low income customers affordable broadband rates and whether rules regarding price commitments for all subscribers should be followed – they’re in favor of both.

The next step is for staff to consider all the comments and replies, and make any changes to the proposed grants that seem necessary. The revised draft resolutions should be posted in the next couple of days, although it’s also possible that the commission’s vote could be bumped to a later meeting.

Charter Communications comments on the Charter Communications Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates, Silver Wheel projects, 21 November 2019
Public Advocates Office – comments on the Charter Communications Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates , Silver Wheel projects, 21 November 2019
Charter Communications – reply comments on the Charter Communications Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates, Silver Wheel projects, 26 November 2019

Charter Communications – comments on the Cruzio Equal Access Santa Cruz project, 25 November 2019
Central Coast Broadband Consortium – comments on the Cruzio Equal Access Santa Cruz project, 25 November 2019
Central Coast Broadband Consortium – reply comments on the Cruzio Equal Access Santa Cruz, project 2 December 2019

Charter Communications – comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 25 November 2019
Frontier Communications – comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 25 November 2019
California Emerging Technology Fund – comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 25 November 2019
Central Coast Broadband Consortium – reply comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 2 December 2019

Frontier Communications – comments on the Frontier Communications Northeast Project: Phase1 project, 21 November 2019
California Emerging Technology Fund – comments on the Frontier Communications Northeast Project: Phase1, project, 21 November 2019

Public Advocates Office – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 25 November 2019
Public Advocates Office – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 25 November 2019
Public Advocates Office – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 20 November 2019

All documents collected in 2019 regarding the CASF program and projects are here.