The last remaining broadband infrastructure subsidy proposal from 2019 is scheduled to be decided this morning by the California Public Utilities Commission. The resolution that’s on today’s CPUC consent agenda reaffirms one important precedent regarding subsidised middle mile fiber projects, and establishes another.
The plan is to add $11 million from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to the $6.6 million approved in 2013 for the Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative’s (KRRBI) hybrid fiber middle mile/wireless last mile broadband system that’ll serve Karuk and Yurok tribal lands in Humboldt County. The extra money will cover cost increases due to a necessary redesign that increased the middle mile span from 82 miles to 104 miles, and due to increased overhead, including a state law passed in the intervening years that imposed so-called prevailing wage rules on such work.
As drafted, the resolution reaffirms a previous order that the Karuk Tribe’s “middle-mile network shall be made available for wholesale access to other potential CASF grantees at reasonable rates and terms. These reasonable rates shall be at cost”. This requirement recognises that the “middle-mile infrastructure will be utilised to support broadband deployment within the proposed project and provide increased means for interconnection within the region”. To its credit, the Karuk Tribe never objected, and by all accounts supports this open access requirement.
The resolution also drills a loophole into the restrictions snaked into California law by lobbyists for AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast, Charter Communications and other monopoly model incumbents, and their non-profit fellow travellers. Federally subsidised areas in California where, mostly, AT&T and Frontier are receiving half a billion dollars for upgrades that might or might not happen are off limits to CASF grant applicants. But that only applies to last mile infrastructure and does “not prohibit CASF funding of middle-mile infrastructure that merely travels through [Connect America Fund-subsidised] census blocks”, according to today’s draft.
In other words, it’ll be the only modern broadband backbone in and out of northern Humboldt County, so it should be available to anyone on an open access, fair market basis. And it shouldn’t be short stopped by incumbents that want to force rural communities to pay for poor broadband service from decaying rural copper telecoms systems, where they can get it all.
If the CPUC thinks – correctly – that it’s necessary to impose an open access requirement on middle mile fiber owned by a California Indian Tribe, which is simply trying to bring the twenty-first century onto its lands, then there’s no excuse for not doing the same for similarly subsidised middle mile fiber owned by Frontier, AT&T, Charter or anyone else.