CPUC approves DSL upgrade subsidy for Frontier at $4,700 per home

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Weimar casf project

The California Public Utilities Commission approved a $693,000 grant to Frontier Communications from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for a DSL equipment upgrade in the Placer County community of Weimar earlier this month. It was a considerably smaller grant than Frontier requested.

The project originally included the somewhat larger town of Colfax and called for a CASF subsidy of $2.3 million to reach 1,400 homes that, Frontier said, lacked access to broadband service at California’s pathetic minimum of 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. Other Internet service providers in the area begged to differ, however. Two wireless ISPs, Colfax.net and SmarterBroadband, which have made a habit of blocking wireline upgrades, challenged Frontier’s request, as did the local cable operator, Wave. As a result more than two-thirds of the budget and nearly 90% of the households were chopped, and the cost jumped to $4,700 per premise…

Staff notes that this is a DSL project, and the cost would be higher compared to other DSL projects approved by the Commission. The total number of households for this project is 148, which is significantly less compared to other Frontier DSL projects that range from 234 to 1,017 total households. The higher cost per household is due to the low density of eligible households in the project area. Further, in addition to the equipment upgrades to the Weimar Central Office, Frontier must also upgrade equipment facilities at its Colfax Central Office in order to serve the Weimar project area. Due to the additional equipment upgrades required in Colfax, the cost per household increased by $1,000 overall.

Frontier gave up federal money for the area, in order to maximise its Californian subsidy, which covers 90% of the construction cost for the DSL central office upgrade and 1,000 feet of new fiber, apparently for a lateral connection to a middle mile route. Frontier is only promising the minimum performance level for CASF funded projects of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, but CPUC staff “estimates 50 percent of CASF-eligible households are within roughly 5,000 feet of Frontier’s terminals and should expect very fast service (25 Mbps to a maximum of 115 Mbps)”.

Frontier’s financial woes rated a mention, but didn’t raise any concerns. The CPUC resolution concluded that Frontier “has managed to stabilise its revenue and made significant efforts to reduce debt and improve its financial leverage profile”.

Proposed California initiative would toughen and lock in consumer privacy rules

by Steve Blum • , ,

The man behind California’s new privacy law doesn’t like what lobbyists are trying to do to it in Sacramento, and plans on taking his case directly voters. In 2018, Alastair Mactaggart and his organisation – Californians for Consumer Privacy – collected enough signatures to get a tough privacy law on the ballot, but withdrew the initiative after a deal with was cut with lawmakers to enact most of its provisions. But anything the legislature can do, it can also undo, so Mactaggart is going back to the voters. According to the initiative’s text, filed with the California attorney general’s office yesterday…

Even before the [California Consumer Privacy Act] had gone into effect, however, businesses began to try to weaken the law. In the 2019–20 legislative session alone, members of the Legislature proposed more than a dozen bills to amend the CCPA, and it appears that business will continue to push for modifications that weaken the law. Unless California voters take action, the hard-fought rights consumers have won could be undermined by big business.

If enough valid signatures are collected and it’s approved by Collected voters, the initiative would generally tighten restrictions on the kind of personal information that businesses can collect from consumers and required them to disclose, in advance, “the specific purposes” for which the data will collected or used, and to go back and notify consumers if they want use the information for other reasons. It would ban the collection of personal information from children less than 13 years old without parental permission, and from teenagers between 13 and 16 without their permission. Consumers all ages would gain the right to demand that a business delete or correct personal information, within limits, even if it was collected with permission.

The initiative would also create the “California Privacy Protection Agency”, with an initial budget of $5 million a year. It would be run by a five person, politically appointed board, and have the “power to audit a business’s compliance” with the new privacy law, including the authority to subpoena “books, papers, records or other items”. The agency could issue fines for violations.

If passed, the California legislature’s ability to water down the initiative’s provisions would be severely limited. Mactaggart needs signatures from more than 600,000 registered voters to get it on the 2020 ballot.

Fewer complaints, so far, as California utilities cut power to reduce wildfire risk

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Update: PG&E shut off power this morning, as previously announced. As of this evening, it had restored power in north Bay Area counties, and some of the affected Sierra foothill communities. SCE turned power back on for the Riverside County homes affected by Tuesday’s cuts. Public reaction to PG&E de-energisation moves remained as relatively muted as it did on Tuesday. The San Francisco Chronicle spoke to one upset Sonoma County supervisor, but on the whole there was very little NIMBY outrage.

Forecasts of high winds and hot temperatures this week led two of California’s major privately owned electric utilities to implement de-energisation plans that were drafted earlier this year. Californians’ acceptance of “public safety power shutoffs” as a necessary fire prevention tool appears to be growing, although we’ll find out today if residents of the more affluent communities of the north San Francisco Bay Area are as tolerant as people in the Sierra foothills.

PG&E announced that it is turning off power this morning to 48,000 customers in Butte, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sonoma and Yuba. That follows cut offs in Butte, Nevada and Yuba counties for 24,000 customers that began Monday evening. Restoration of service to the first group was supposed to be completed yesterday evening. As of last night, Southern California Edison had turned off power for a few dozen customers in Riverside County, and put a 140,000 more across the Southland on notice.

San Diego Gas and Electric customers are not affected, so far.

People who live in Sierra foothill communities have more directly personal memories of the horrific fire that killed 86 people and largely destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County last year. So they might not be happy about losing power, but they did not seem to erupt in outrage as some Wine Country residents did last October. That’s progress.

The Sacramento Bee found one Butte County resident who was annoyed. She was interviewed at one of the “community resource centers” that PG&E set up, basically a big tent with air conditioning and plenty of outlets to charge phones. Judging by the video shot by Bee reporter Daniel Kim, few people were inconvenienced enough to make use of it.

That was the only kvetching that turned up in a Google news search as power was being restored yesterday afternoon, and only a relative handful of people took to Twitter to complain. PG&E is a particular punching bag on Twitter: the proactive power cuts didn’t add much to the vitriol that’s regularly directed at the company. But there’s a somewhat different group of people affected today. Stay tuned.

FCC’s weed whacker work fails another court test

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The Federal Communications Commission’s republican majority is now 0 for 2 in federal appeals court challenges to its weed whacker campaign to prune back telecommunications and media regulations. In an opinion released yesterday, the third circuit federal appeals court, based in Philadelphia, voted 2 to 1 to overturn an FCC ruling that loosened restrictions on media ownership, because republican commissioners blew off concerns about the effect it would have on women and minorities. In August, Washington, D.C.-based federal appellate judges overturned an FCC decision that scrapped environmental reviews for small cell site, saying it was “not logical and rational”.

The Philadelphia judges were likewise scathing in their criticism of the process, or lack thereof, that the FCC used in reaching its decision. It’s the second time in two months that federal appellate judges have rejected a controversial, party line FCC ruling because the republican majority did not do its homework…

Problems abound with the FCC’s analysis. Most glaring is that, although we instructed it to consider the effect of any rule changes on female as well as minority ownership, the Commission cited no evidence whatsoever regarding gender diversity…

Even just focusing on the evidence with regard to ownership by racial minorities, however, the FCC’s analysis is so insubstantial that it would receive a failing grade in any introductory statistics class.

The case has to do with how many TV stations a single company can own, and whether a company can own a TV station and a newspaper in the same media market. It’s not an issue I follow closely, so if you want more background on it, take a look at this story on CNET by Marguerite Reardon.

The court’s opinion has broader significance, because it shows an increasing lack of deference to the FCC’s supposed policy expertise and decreasing tolerance for sloppy decision making that begins with an idealogical conclusion and then supports it with sophomoric legal arguments rather than basing it on the evidence in the record. Appellate court challenges to two more FCC rulings – one rolling back Obama-era network neutrality rules and the other preempting local ownership of street light poles and similar infrastructure in the public right of way – are based on similar grounds. A ruling on the net neutrality case could come at any time. The appeals of the right of way decisions still have several months, at least, to run.

T-Mobile waters down California job pledge as it refiles for Sprint merger permission

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile san francisco 18may2019

T-Mobile (and Sprint, but it’s T-Mobile running the show) refiled and amended its application for merger approval with the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, as directed by the administrative law judge managing the case. Generally, the changes add a bit more detail about how the settlement T-Mobile reached with the federal justice department’s antitrust enforcers changes the promises it made to the CPUC earlier in the proceeding.

The core of the settlement involves transferring most of Sprint’s prepaid customers, along with retail outlets, cell sites and spectrum, to DISH, in order to create a new competitor in the mobile broadband market. The new commitments in the amended application boil down to we’re not making any promises about what DISH will do with the stuff.

Or with the people. Since some of Sprint’s employees –“prepaid asset personnel” – will be offered as a sacrifice to DISH, T-Mobile is removing them from its “voluntary commitment” to “extend job offers with comparable pay and benefits to all California Sprint and T-Mobile retail employees”.

If you read between the lines, though, it’s also possible – probable, if you assume T-Mobile’s lawyers use weasel words for a reason – many Sprint and/or T-Mobile employees will end up out of work, whether or not they’re being shopped to DISH.

On the one hand, T-Mobile originally promised “the total number of New T-Mobile employees in California three years after the close of the transaction will be equal to, or greater than, the current total number of Sprint and T-Mobile employees in California”. The amended application removes the “prepaid asset personnel” from that commitment and restates it as “no net job loss”, which indicates that the “or greater than” is weaselly worded indeed.

On the other hand, T-Mobile says it will create “approximately one thousand new jobs at a new customer experience center located in California’s Central Valley”.

Do the math. If T-Mobile adds a thousand people in Kingsburg, in Fresno County, and its Californian head count will be the same in three years as it is now, a thousand employees will have to make a career change. That might be a sound business decision, but it’s not the storyline T-Mobile is hoping the CPUC will buy into.

The next milestone in the CPUC’s lengthening review of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger is a hearing to consider what additional issues need to be addressed, and what the schedule for doing that will be. Given typical procedural timelines at the CPUC, a final decision isn’t likely until next year, perhaps some time in the first three months or so.

Links to the stack of arguments and exhibits T-Mobile and Sprint filed on Thursday are here.

Huawei’s U.S. troubles jumpstart push for new mobile operating systems

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei press conference ces 5jan2019

With the impact of a U.S. trading ban growing, Huawei launched its own operating system, initially aimed at Internet of Things devices but with the potential to compete with Android in the mobile phone ecosystem. Branded HarmonyOS (and called Hongmeng in China) it is designed to be lightweight and very secure. Huawei isn’t installing it in its smart phones, but that could change.

A deep dive into Huawei’s relationship with Google by The Information’s Juro Osawa highlights how Chinese companies have flirted with developing independent operating systems, but ultimately backed away from investing in a risky corporate strategy that could find no executive champions…

In 2016, a top Huawei executive passed on an opportunity to partner with the maker of an Android alternative called Sailfish, seeing little need for a Plan B…

After the meeting, [Huawei consumer division chief Richard] Yu didn’t follow up on the idea of working with Jolla. He showed little interest in an alliance with another maker of operating systems.

But even though interest in reducing dependence on operating systems controlled by foreign companies is now coming from the Chinese government, according to Osawa’s article, Huawei didn’t take the threat seriously…

“In China, companies that supply products to the government are under growing pressure to use domestic software as well as hardware,” said Canalys analyst Nicole Peng. “Major Chinese tech companies like Huawei are feeling obliged to develop their own homegrown operating systems.”

Huawei’s renewed effort to develop its own OS was halfhearted, prompted in part by the company’s need to conform to Beijing’s homegrown software push…few executives viewed it as an Android replacement because the chances of Google ending its work with the Chinese company seemed remote.

Huawei lost that bet, and is now trying to play catch up. The result could a further isolation of technology and online services behind national firewalls. Or it might be the impetus the industry needs to finally break out of operating system architectures that were drafted nearly fifty years ago.

California’s consumer data privacy law survives lobbyist blitz, more or less intact

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Sf naked the streets

Big tech, big telecom and big business made a big push in the legislature to water down California’s landmark data privacy law, AKA the California consumer privacy act. They won some minor victories as the 2019 session ended, but did not succeed in making major changes.

A blog post by Christina Hyun Jin Kroll in the National Law Review has a good run down of the bills that did and didn’t make it out of the legislature and onto governor Gavin Newsom’s desk. Companies won a year’s delay in implementation of some of the protections that apply to employment-related information and data collected as a result of some business-to-business transactions, and expanded the scope of what can be considered “public information” that’s not subject to privacy restrictions. “Deidentified” and/or “aggregate” consumer information was also excluded – it’s no longer defined as “personal information”.

The battleground now moves out of the California legislature and into the governor’s and attorney general’s offices, and to federal lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Newsom has to decide whether to sign the bills into law (it’s expected he will). California attorney general Xavier Becerra has to issue detailed rules for complying with and enforcing CCPA. The law technically takes effect in January, but Becerra’s rules won’t kick in until July. His first draft is expected in the next few weeks.

So far, California is out in front of both the federal government and other states on privacy policy, which is making business interests nervous. Dozens of CEOs from major corporations signed a letter addressed to key congressional leaders that urges them to preempt state laws, because otherwise their customers might be confused by “rules that may change depending upon the state in which they reside, the state in which they are accessing the Internet, and the state in which the company’s operation is providing those resources or services”. Their altruism is touching.

There seems to be widespread agreement in D.C. that something should be done, but, naturally, no one can agree on what that something is. For now, California’s data privacy law is on track to become the de facto national standard.

5G phone prices start high while 5G availability is low

by Steve Blum • , , ,

5g mwca 12sep2018

The first 5G capable smart phones are beginning the hit the market, and already there’s wailing about sticker shock – a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G will cost $1,300 and only be available through Verizon, at least for the next few months. That’s a lot of money for an Android phone (although not exactly nosebleed territory for iOS fans). But it doesn’t say much about what it’s going to cost the average consumer to upgrade to 5G, by the time the average consumer can find 5G service.

The initial price of 5G phones isn’t indicative of anything except manufacturers starting at the top of the marginal price curve and getting ready for a quick downhill run. As manufacturing ramps up, and product bugs are squashed, the price will come down.

The first target market is technophiles – people who will buy it because it’s new tech. That’s probably a six-figure market in the U.S. They’ll pay the most. Second target market is early adopters – people who perceive a significant benefit from the increased performance 5G phones presumably will offer. That market is probably in the seven figure range. By the time 5G phones break out into the general market – eight and nine figures – price points will be in familiar, 4G territory.

Hardware and service adoption will follow service availability, and that will be the limiting factor for 5G uptake over the next two to three years. There’s very little 5G service available right now, and commercial-scale deployments won’t begin until next year. What we’re seeing from carriers now are pilot projects aimed at preparing for the buildout that’ll begin in 2020 and continue for the next five to ten years.

There’s no need for manufacturers to rush into 5G production or push down phone prices in the coming year. They’re wisely positioning themselves for the long haul.

Long shot broadband infrastructure financing option approved by California legislature

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

East garrison conduit 625

A bill that has the potential to funnel California public employee retirement fund money toward broadband infrastructure investments is heading to governor Gavin Newsom’s desk. AB 1212, carried by Marc Levine (D – Marin) , requires state agencies to send a list of priority infrastructure projects to various public employees retirement boards for their consideration. “Telecommunications” is included in the list of eligible infrastructure types, along with “power, transportation, ports, petrochemical, and utilities”.

The catch is that the lists would come from agencies that are “responsible for infrastructure”. While there’s any number of agencies that might want to build broadband infrastructure for their own use, there isn’t one that pursues public-facing projects. The California Public Utilities Commission funds broadband and telephone projects proposed by others, but doesn’t sponsor them. Still, AB 1212 would crack open the door, and there might be creative ways of walking through it.

AB 417, by Joaquin Arambula (D – Fresno), was also passed on to the governor. It assigns various responsibilities for rural economic development to the California food and agriculture department. How much of it is window dressing is open to debate but one item on the punch list is “making recommendations” for “increasing broadband access” in rural communities. That’s a pretty weak broadband development mandate, but it’s better than none at all. Call it a small step in the right direction. So is AB 488 by Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo). It adds a representatives from the food and agriculture department (as well as the state librarian and the governor’s tribal advisor) to the California Broadband Council.

One promising broadband subsidy bill, albeit for service rather than infrastructure, bit the dust early in the session. AB 1409 by Ed Chau (D – Los Angeles) would have created a fund for “homework gap projects”, which amounted to subsidising take-home wireless hotspots for students and providing WiFi access on school buses. It died behind closed doors in the assembly’s appropriations committee.

Overall, the California legislature ended its 2019 session with a few, relatively minor telecoms policy changes for Newsom to consider. One way of looking at it is that lawmakers did little harm this year, despite AT&T’s best efforts. The relative lack of attention to broadband infrastructure could be a blessing in disguise. The last major broadband infrastructure subsidy bill, 2017’s AB 1665, gutted the California Advanced Services Fund program and turned it into a piggybank for big, monopoly model incumbents.

California legislature tweaks telecoms policy instead of killing it

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Despite AT&T’s quest for de facto deregulation of telecommunications infrastructure and service, no major telecoms policy changes emerged from the California legislature this year. A few small ball telecoms-related bills did emerge by the end of the 2019 session early Saturday morning, though, and were sent on to governor Gavin Newsom.

Assembly bill 1366 is dead, at least for this year. There was no last minute conniving to pull it out of the committee deep freeze it landed in earlier in the week. It could come back in 2020, either as a fast track do-over in January or reintroduced as a new bill.

It’s fair bet that lobbyists from AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications, Frontier Communications and mobile carriers will want to take another try. The moratorium on regulation of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone service and other “Internet protocol enabled” services ends as the new year begins, but there will be no practical effect for months, if not years. There are no VoIP-specific regulations ready to snap back into place and any effort to create new ones, or even reinterpret old ones will take a long time.

A few telecoms bills dealing with more specific issues were approved and are in the governor’s hands, including…

  • AB 1699, Marc Levine (D – Marin) – prohibits mobile carriers from throttling data traffic on accounts used by public safety agencies during emergencies. It’s largely symbolic. The only question is whether mobile carriers, or their lobbying front organisation, will challenge it federal court immediately, or wait until there’s a serious attempt to enforce it.
  • SB 670, Mike McGuire (D – Sonoma) – requires telecoms companies to notify the state office of emergency services when an outage isolates a community. State OES would then pass the information along to local agencies.
  • SB 208 and AB 1132 would crack down on caller ID fraud in various ways.

Newsom has until 13 October 2019 to decide what to do.