Mobile data tests count more than maps, as CPUC votes on broadband subsidies for northeastern California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Plumas eureka

A sharp-eyed reader of this humble blog spotted a gap in my collection of comments on the draft resolutions up for a vote tomorrow. H/T to David Espinoza, the manager of the Upstate and Northeast California broadband consortia, who sent me Plumas-Sierra Electric Co-op’s (PSEC) response to both the draft resolutions for its five proposed projects in Plumas and Lassen counties and the objections raised by the CPUC’s public advocates office. Links are below.

Short version: mobile broadband tests showing zero coverage trumped map models; PSEC added a low-income service plan and CPUC staff recommended extra funding as a result.

The big issue is whether or not one of PSEC’s projects – a proposal to serve 125 homes in the Lake Davis area of Plumas County – is located in an area that has no broadband service at all, other than satellite or dial-up. According to the CPUC’s published map, mobile broadband service is available there, so the project was deemed ineligible for bonus money. In its comments, PSEC provided test data that shows zero broadband availability from any of the four major mobile carriers. The discrepancy might be due to the time of year the CPUC took measurements. As PSEC pointed out

Foliage and tree canopy attenuates radio waves, causing signal degradation, particularly in rural forested areas; especially in fall and winter seasons. Topography also impacts mobile coverage. This Project is in rough terrain with dense tree coverage, resulting in less than adequate mobile coverage.

Based on the Broadband Map, the latest mobile coverage testing was carried out in 2017. It is likely that mobile testing was carried out by CPUC when weather was benign. However, deep in fall and winter seasons actual coverage and speed levels can be significantly less due to weather precipitations and winds.

CPUC staff accepted PSEC’s test data, and the draft resolution was revised, with the extra funding for completely unserved areas added back in.

The PAO objected to the price of PSEC’s proposed plan for low income residents, which also resulted in a lower subsidy amount. PSEC’s answer was to say okay, $15 a month it is. The subsidy bonus that goes along with low income service offerings was added back into the draft resolution.

I’m not a disinterested commentator, so take it for what it’s worth. I provided very minor assistance to Dr. Espinoza, who did the heavy lifting on the response to the original draft Lake Davis resolution. Congratulations to him and the team at PSEC on well-played applications for five needed projects.

Revised draft resolutions, 4 December 2019:
Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Lake Davis Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Eureka Mid-Mile/Last Mile

Comments
Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Plumas Sierra – Lake Davis Mid-Mile/Last Mile, 20 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Eureka Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 21 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 22 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – reply comments on the Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 27 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – reply comments on the Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 27 November 2019

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