Good intentions shouldn’t be good enough to preempt Californian broadband projects

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Yeah. Right.

A proposal to start taking applications again for broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is generating a healthy debate. Today was the deadline to submit opening comments to the California Public Utilities Commission on new draft rules and a schedule for CASF grant and loan applicants. The responses are still coming in, but so far the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates and one telephone company, Frontier, have submitted comments – more on them later – as have several regional broadband consortia.

Including the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, of which I’m a part, and Central Sierra Connect. I wrote our comments, which focused on language in the draft rules that would have, in effect, allowed incumbent ISPs – large or small – to effectively shut down CASF subsidy applications in their service areas for a year. When the California legislature approved extra money and expanded eligibility for CASF last year, in senate bill 740, it gave ISPs a right of first refusal over broadband upgrade projects. The draft of the new rules, though, allowed ISPs to exercise that right of first refusal, without needing to follow through. To fix that

We recommend that the Commission require incumbents who exercise their right of first refusal to meet the same standards that any CASF applicant would have to meet, including submission of project budgets, schedules, technical plans, the posting of a performance bond and acquiescence to the jurisdiction of the Commission in all respects. Such a change would bring the Draft into compliance with SB 740 which requires an incumbent who exercises a right of first refusal to “demonstrate to the commission that it will, within a reasonable timeframe, upgrade existing service”.

On the whole, the proposed new rules for CASF are a considerable improvement, allowing grant and loan applications to be filed as soon as 1 October 2014 and continuing on a quarterly basis through 2015. Making sure that incumbents can’t make mischief by exploiting loopholes would make it just about perfect.

Draft resolution proposing new CASF rules, 27 May 2014

Senate Bill 740, as signed by Governor Brown

ROLLING UPDATE: more comments are coming in, so far from the cable industry’s lobbyists – the California Cable & Telecommunications Association – Verizon and small rural telephone companies. Flames aplenty. See below…

Comments from…

Central Coast Broadband Consortia and Central Sierra Connect

California Cable & Telecommunications Association

California Center for Rural Policy/Redwood Coast RBC

CPUC Office of Ratepayer Advocates

Frontier

Inland Empire Regional Broadband Consortium

Kern River Valley Revitalization/Eastern Sierra Connect RBC

Los Angeles County Regional Broadband Consortia

Rural telephone companies

Tahoe Basin Project

Tom West/North Bay/North Coast RBC

Upstate California Connect Consortium

Valley Vision/Connected Capital Area RBC

Verizon