Charter continues fight against broadband upgrades in low income California communities

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Monopolising low income communities and soaking residents for expensive television and broadband service packages seems to be a key element in Charter Communications business strategy, and it’s continuing its fight against broadband subsidies that might break that stranglehold.

Even in places where it has twice challenged broadband grants, and twice lost.

Charter wants to block two broadband infrastructure projects – one in Santa Cruz County and one in Kern County – approved by the California Public Utilities Commission for subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) last year. It’s also trying to stop a similar grant for broadband facilities in a public housing community in Shasta County.

To qualify for a CASF infrastructure subsidy, an applicant has to show that a proposed location lacks broadband service at (achingly slow) 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. Last year, Cruzio applied for a grant to build fiber to the premise infrastructure in several mobile home communities in the Soquel/Capitola area of Santa Cruz County. Frontier Communications proposed a DSL upgrade project for mobile home residents in the Kern County town of Taft.

Charter, who likewise applied for and received CASF grants to extend broadband service to mobile home communities in Ventura and Riverside counties, challenged Cruzio and Frontier, but was only partially successful. When those projects were presented to commissioners for a vote, Charter tried to re-litigate its opposition, but again failed in the attempt.

So it filed appeals – applications for rehearing – against the Cruzio and Frontier projects, along with a similar protest of a $36,000 grant for WiFi in a Redding public housing community that it had also unsuccessfully challenged.

At a minimum, Charter’s appeals will delay all three projects, at least for some weeks. Longer term, its scorched earth tactics at the CPUC will, as I wrote last year, have a baleful effect on the CASF program, which is already hamstrung as a result of cable and telco lobbying in Sacramento. That’s a win for Charter and its fellow monopoly-model broadband players, and a big loss for low income and rural Californians.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium assisted Cruzio with its Equal Access Santa Cruz grant application, and I was a part of that effort. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.