AT&T not on FCC’s list of potential RDOF bidders, but 505 others are

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Paicines pole route

AT&T is not on the list of 505 would-be rural broadband subsidy bidders released by the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday. It’s also not listed as a member of any of the 38 consortia – bidding groups – and none of the other 467 contenders are obviously AT&T subsidiaries. None of the FCC registration numbers directly held by AT&T match up to any of the listed bidders either.

It’s difficult to prove a negative, but so far it appears that absence of evidence is also evidence of absence. AT&T does not appear to be interested in going after the $16 billion in ten year operating subsidies that the FCC will be awarding in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction next month.

The list is a bit of a tease. The FCC isn’t telling us which states these companies intend to bid in – California might or might not be in their dreams.

Other major California Internet service providers are also missing from the list, or have been tagged as having “incomplete” applications. Only one of California’s incumbent telcos filed complete paperwork the first time around. Consolidated Communications, which operates in a small area east of Sacramento, is ready to go. There were no other obviously Californian ISPs among the 121 organisations on the “complete” list.

Frontier is one of the 384 ISPs on the “incomplete” list, sailing under its bankruptcy-induced “debtor in possession” flag. So is Cox Communications, Altice (aka Suddenlink) and a couple of smaller cable operators, Horizon and Mediacom. But not Charter, despite signalling earlier this year that it would chase RDOF money, or Comcast, which comes as no surprise. Also in the incomplete category are Californian wireless Internet service providers and independent wireline ISPs.

The auction is scheduled to begin on 29 October 2020. Bidders that need to clean up their paperwork have until 6:00 p.m. eastern time on 23 September 2020 to do so. The FCC doesn’t seem likely to grant any extra time. At the same time that it published the lists, the FCC also published a sharply worded order denying five requests for extension of an earlier deadline. Pleas for waivers of eligibility or due diligence requirements usually get the same treatment.

The list will only get shorter as auction time nears.

Killing broadband upgrade bill is good business for California assembly leaders

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Printing money us treasury image

Money matters in Sacramento, and the more ambitious the politician, the more it matters. The two men primarily responsible for killing senate bill 1130, which would have raised California’s broadband speed standard – assemblymen Anthony Rendon (D – Los Angeles) and Ian Calderon (D – Los Angeles) – hold high office, assembly speaker and democratic floor leader respectively. It comes at a high price.

In his eight years in and running for the assembly, Rendon has been paid a total of $9 million by a wide range of special interests, according to the website and the California secretary of state’s office. Calderon has raked in $4.6 million. That includes contributions to side hustles like ballot measure and statewide office committees. Much of it comes from labor, particularly public sector unions, and other reliably democratic cash cows, but the telecommunications and electronics industry sector is also a ready source of cash.

Rendon has collected $415,000 from the sector. AT&T is at the top of list, putting $53,000 in the speaker’s pocket since 2012. Verizon and Charter Communications come next, both with about $28,000 in payments. He’s taken a total of $83,000 in payoff from the cable industry, including $17,000 from Comcast.

Although Calderon doesn’t match Rendon’s total, he does even better on a percentage basis with the telecommunications and electronics sector, taking $328,000 in payments – 7% of his revenue. AT&T is still at the top of the list, with $54,000 in payments to Calderon, more than they paid Rendon. The cable industry as a whole paid Calderon $53,000.

Republicans get some love too. But not as much. The republican’s assembly floor leader, Marie Waldron (R – San Diego), also entered the assembly in the class of 2012. She’s only managed to score $2.8 million from all sources, with $129,000 coming from the telecommunications and electronics sector. But AT&T still leads the pack, paying Waldron $36,000. The cable industry gave her $31,000.

Or at least that’s what been reported so far. 2020 is an election year. When the dust settles in November, expect to see more payoffs from AT&T, Comcast, Charter and other telecoms companies reported.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

AT&T, cable company money buys obedience from California assembly, and slow broadband for everyone else

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Liberty whip 625

A last minute push to convince democratic leaders in the California assembly to allow a vote on raising the state’s minimum broadband speed standard failed last night in the final, chaotic hours of the regular 2020 legislative session. If you can get – well, are offered – broadband service at 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds, you are still considered adequately served under California law. Which adequately serves the monopoly business model needs of AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and the other big, incumbent broadband providers who blocked the vote.

Senate bill 1130, authored by senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles), would have raised the bar to symmetrical 25 Mbps down/25 Mbps up speeds. The California senate approved it in June, but it died in the assembly as democratic leaders refused to allow a full floor vote on it.

Had they done so, SB 1130 would have easily won the majority needed to pass. That wasn’t acceptable to assembly speaker Anthony Rendon (D- Los Angeles). Backed up by majority floor leader Ian Calderon (D- Los Angeles), Rendon pulled the bill, caving in to pressure – and loads of money – from AT&T and a solid line of cable companies, including Comcast and Charter Communications. Frontier Communications was against it too, but the relative pittance it directly puts in legislative pockets – $61,000 over the years versus $7.4 million from AT&T alone – doesn’t buy much influence. AT&T’s indirect payoffs to Californian democrats and republicans are more than five times that.

AT&T and Frontier like slow, 1990s DSL speeds because that’s what they offer to many poor and/or rural Californians. If independent competitors can get subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund to build fully modern and future proof fiber systems in those communities, AT&T and Frontier would either have to spend their own money to upgrade or lose their monopoly strangleholds. Cable companies – at least those that maintain their technology at current levels – aren’t directly threatened by a higher speed standard, but the indirect threat of competitive Internet service providers and increased attention from anti-trust enforcers keeps them in the opposition column too.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Kids don’t need fast broadband if they have fast food, California assembly says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Salinas taco bell broadband

Gratitude to the Taco Bell workers in Salinas who cared, and props to Monterey County supervisor and former assemblyman Luis Alejo for the photo.

Democratic party leaders in the California assembly iced a bill yesterday that would have raised the state’s broadband standard to modern speed levels. Speaker Anthony Rendon (D – Los Angeles) bowed to pressure – and bags of cash – from AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and other monopoly model incumbents, and blocked senate bill 1130 from a floor vote in the California assembly. Democratic floor leader Ian Calderon (D – Los Angeles) took the hand off and moved SB 1130 to the assembly’s inactive file. Conventional wisdom says it’s dead.

A rumored deal between senate democrats and Gavin Newsom that would have endorsed the governor’s 100 Mbps download target is likewise RIP.

It’s a victory for big telecoms companies and their fellow travellers in Sacramento. California’s broadband standard remains at 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds, a service level supported by the decaying 1990s DSL infrastructure that AT&T and Frontier Communications refuse to upgrade rural California. Urban and suburban Californians enjoy faster speeds, but at a price: thanks to their cozy duopoly, cable and phone companies can charge half again as much for broadband service in the U.S. as they do in Europe.

SB 1130 would have raised that standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download and upload speeds, and allowed the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to pay for infrastructure upgrades in communities that lack it. Those subsidies could have seeded competition that neither telcos or cable companies want.

To stop that from happening, they induced a friendly assemblywoman, Cecilia Aguiar Curry (D – Yolo) to introduce assembly bill 570, which was ghostwritten by an allied non-profit, the California Emerging Technology Fund. It would have reaffirmed the 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps standard, and further weakened CASF by diverting cash into porkbarrel giveaways.

AB 570 was also pushed aside over the weekend, after it became clear that a majority of legislators in the assembly and the senate would vote in favor of SB 1130 if given the chance. Nearly all of that majority were democrats – with one exception, republicans have been opposed all along.

The clock doesn’t run out until midnight, and there’s talk of sending the legislature into overtime in September. In any other year, it would be crazy to say there’s any hope left for sound broadband policy at the California capitol. But 2020 is a crazy year.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Ad watchdog says some T-Mobile 5G claims are bogus, some aren’t

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile billboard 2 las vegas 6jan2020

T-Mobile’s ads about the wonderfulness of its 5G network and the limitations of Verizon’s went too far, according to an independent watchdog. The national advertising division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau, which has been acting as a mobile broadband advertising referee lately, said that T-Mobile supported its claim that its 5G service is faster than its competitors and covers more ground, but was misleading about metrics and its ability to project 5G service into places where even 4g is troublesome…

NAD noted that the challenged claims also convey a message about metrics other than speed. There was no evidence comparing 5G to 4G on metrics like reliability and metrics that “will change our lives in really big ways,” therefore NAD recommended that T-Mobile modify its claims to more clearly state the metrics like speed for which 5G is superior to 4G.

Further, NAD determined that the challenged advertising reasonably conveys the message that T-Mobile’s 5G typically delivers service in the physical locations shown in the advertising, such as basements and elevators, where cellular customers are accustomed to potentially experiencing a coverage gap. While it was undisputed that T-Mobile’s low band signal can penetrate walls, there was no evidence of the extent to which it does so, or whether it delivers coverage in locations that have traditionally challenged cellular service.

T-Mobile is putting 5G service on its low band 600 MHz spectrum, which has more range than the mid-band frequencies typically used for 4G service, and far greater range than the millimeter wave bands that are the focus of Verizon’s 5G deployments. The trade off is capacity. Mid-band frequencies deliver more digital bandwidth and millimeter wave bands far more.

Although NAD doesn’t have any enforcement power, it has a history of turning over disputes to regulatory agencies that do if a company doesn’t cooperate. So far, mobile carriers have sorta done so, albeit after taking advantage of the opportunity to appeal adverse findings. Which T-Mobile says it will do.

FCC clings to primitive standard for advanced broadband

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Bedtime for bonzo

Five years is a long time in Internet years. Broadband demand and data traffic rates continue to climb, and the number of people who absolutely need fast connections has skyrocketed in the past few months as work, education, health care and other vital services moved online in response to the covid–19 emergency. But the Federal Communications Commission, or at least its republican majority, wants to stick with a broadband speed standard – 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload – that it established more than five years ago.

In preparation for next year’s national broadband deployment report, the FCC floated draft specs that maintain the current definition of “advanced telecommunications capability” as 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up. That’s slower than the minimum needed to function in the 21st century economy and society, even before covid–19. It’s slower than the symmetrical 100 Mbps speeds adopted by house democrats in Washington D.C., and by democrats in the California senate. And it’s slower and more lopsided than the standard pushed by FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, also a democrat, for years…

The FCC has been sticking with a download standard of 25 megabits per second that it adopted more than five years ago. We need to set audacious goals if we want to do big things. With many of our nation’s providers offering gigabit service, it’s time for the FCC to adjust its baseline upward, too. We need to reset it to at least 100 megabits per second. While we’re at it we need to revisit our thinking about upload speeds. At present, our standard is 3 megabits per second. But this asymmetrical approach is dated. We need to recognize that with enormous changes in data processing and cloud storage, upload speeds should be rethought.

The California legislature is looking at exactly the same problem this week. It’s considering two bills, one that would raise the state’s minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps down/25 Mbps up speeds, and another, sponsored and carried by well compensated friends of telco and cable companies, that began by trying to lock in pitifully slow 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up service levels and only grudgingly moved to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

“Virtual separation” of Frontier’s fiber systems could mean actual abandonment of rural Californians

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San benito pole route 13apr2019

The gap between urban fiber haves and rural have nots could grow wider in California as a result of Frontier Communications’ bankruptcy settlement. Its reorganisation plan was filed with the California Public Utilities Commission yesterday, after receiving approval from the federal judge in New York overseeing the bankruptcy proceeding.

The plan turns ownership over to banks and financiers who hold billions of dollars of Frontier’s now worthless debt. A cryptic paragraph buried deep in the plan calls for Frontier to develop a “detailed” proposal for a “virtual separation” of “select state operations” where the new owners “will conduct fiber deployments” from other operations in those states which will be blessed with vague “broadband upgrades and operational improvements”.

Translation: if there’s a fast track to profits, we’ll install fiber, otherwise we’ll let the copper rot.

Verizon hung onto most of its long haul fiber when it sold its Californian telephone business to Frontier in 2016. Frontier got Verizon’s fiber-to-the-premise “FiOS” systems in southern California, mostly in relatively affluent communities. Since then, Frontier has applied for California Advanced Services Fund grants to deploy fiber in a handful of communities, while doing limited DSL upgrades in others.

This “virtual separation” of fiber worthy communities from those less fortunate was floated earlier in Frontier’s bankruptcy proceeding, provoking a sharp response from the union representing its employees in California and elsewhere and a Californian advocacy organisation. The Communications Workers of American and TURN asked the Federal Communications Commission to take a hard look at the deal…

The virtual separation appears to set up a structure through which Frontier could seek to capture the revenues from fiber deployments for investors, potentially depriving retail operations of necessary cash flows, personnel, and other resources…

The [FCC] must ensure that an entire class of customers does not remain on the wrong side of the digital divide based on Frontier’s strategic decision to limit its investment in certain communities where it remains as the only source of broadband Internet access.

As the plan approved by the federal judge reaffirms, Frontier and its creditors need CPUC permission to close the deal. That review is underway and remains on track to conclude early next year.

As California burns, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile fight emergency obligations

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Woolsey fire crew 625

Mobile carriers beat back a legislative attempt to impose disaster readiness obligations on them last week, and challenged “resiliency” rules approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in July.

Senate bill 431, authored by Mike McGuire (D – Sonoma), died in the assembly appropriations committee last week. No reason was given, but the primary opposition came from the lobbying front organisation used by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, with cable industry lobbyists close behind. The bill would have directed the CPUC to require 72-hour power backup capability at cell sites, where feasible. It also included relatively trivial back up power obligations for wireline companies, which were the remnants of tougher rules that displeased telco and cable lobbyists.

Although specific statutory authority is always useful to state agencies, the CPUC didn’t wait for it. Under its new resiliency rules, wireless companies – mobile carriers particularly, but perhaps also others – have to maintain 72 hours of backup power and provide customers with “the ability to receive emergency alerts and notification” during disasters and power cuts, including ”basic Internet browsing".

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and their lobbyists appealed that decision last week, asking the CPUC to reconsider it. They claim, as they have all along, that mandatory state disaster readiness rules are “preempted by federal law”…

Congress gave the FCC – not this Commission – jurisdiction over decisions about how, where, and for what duration wireless services are provided. The Decision impinges on the FCC’s exclusive domain.

That exclusive domain includes pretty much everything having to do with mobile networks, the carriers argue. They also claim that because broadband is an “information” service, per the FCC’s network neutrality ruling, the CPUC has no authority over it, either. That’s very much in dispute, though – the California legislature took the position that since it’s not a “telecommunications” service, it’s in their domain and not the FCC’s.

That question is now in the hands of a federal judge in Sacramento. The CPUC’s authority to impose emergency preparedness requirements on telecoms companies is also likely to be decided by in a federal court. There’s little chance that the CPUC will grant the mobile industry’s “application for rehearing”, but filing it is the first procedural step on the path to a legal challenge.

Showdown time for California’s broadband future

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tombstone 625

Like a gut shot gunfighter with nothing to lose, assembly bill 570 is both doomed and dangerous. Amendments made by the California senate’s appropriations committee were posted late on Friday: all new money for broadband infrastructure subsidies was stripped out. What remain are the monopoly protection privileges inserted by lobbyists for big telecoms companies, and the slabs of pork they’re tossing to their faithful followers.

AB 570 is authored by assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo), but ghostwritten by the California Emerging Technology Fund, an incumbent-funded and advised non-profit. It was introduced to block senate bill 1130, a broadband subsidy bill with the mission of extending 21st century broadband service to all Californians, which is carried by senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles).

SB 1130 threatens the monopoly business models of the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and Frontier Communications. So AB 570’s backers tried instead to cement 1990s DSL speeds – 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload – into law. They then grudgingly moved to a 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up standard, which pairs well with the past decade’s DSL vintage. They also extended and expanded tax authorisation for the California Advanced Service Fund, as justification and camouflage for its obstructive intent.

That pretext is gone. With bipartisan opposition evident – democrats oppose slow speeds, republicans don’t like taxes – it wouldn’t have been able to muster the two-thirds legislative supermajority it originally needed to pass. But with the tax language removed, the votes needed could be dialled back to a simple majority.

The only reason to vote it into law now is to please telco and cable lobbyists. That isn’t sufficient motivation for a two-thirds vote, but the millions of dollars they stuff into legislators’ pockets might be enough to buy a simple majority. Even against that cash fuelled opposition, SB 1130 also appears likely to gain the votes it needs. Which could set the two bills on a parliamentary collision course.

With the California legislature’s regular session heading into its final, wild week, the pressure to do something will be intense. Deals will be made quickly and behind closed doors. Stay tuned.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

California legislators lean toward faster broadband standard, as committees wrap up work

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cvin fiber marker sr49

Two competing broadband infrastructure bills faced final committee votes yesterday in the California legislature. Both passed on party line votes – democrats yes, republicans no – with changes on the way that might bridge the gap between them. Maybe for the good of all. Maybe.

Funding restrictions imposed on senate bill 1130 by the senate’s appropriations committee in June were removed by the assembly’s appropriations committee, apparently by mutual consent. SB 1130, carried by senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles), would raise California’s broadband standard to fiber-ish 25 Mbps download and upload speeds.

Assembly bill 570 was given a green light by the senate appropriations committee, but with what could be significant changes. Committee chair Anthony Portantino (D – Los Angeles) said that the author, assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D- Yolo), had agreed to new language “to clarify that all funding projects must provide future ready infrastructure”. Language syncing up with the restoration of funding authority for the next two years in SB 1130 will also be added.

We don’t know yet what the actual changes in either bill will say. As is common practice in the California legislature, details come after committee votes and not before. The indication is that AB 570’s slow 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds will give way to SB 1130’s higher standard.

But wait until the new language is published before starting the party.

What wasn’t mentioned was the incumbent protection clause – the right of the first night in AB 570. Presumably, the bill still allows an incumbent – like AT&T, Frontier, Comcast or Charter – to take a look at any project submitted by an independent provider and grab ownership of it. Incumbents can block an independent’s grant application, while taking the money that goes with it, just by promising to upgrade the project area sometime in the future.

Even if AB 570 no longer sets a pitifully slow broadband speed standard for California, it still would render most of the benefits of SB 1130 meaningless: a fiber upgrade would only happen where monopoly model incumbents allowed it.

There are ten days to go until the end of the California legislature regular 2020 session. Bill language still has to be finalised, and negotiations between the well paid loyal supporters of telephone and cable companies in the legislature, and those who want something better for the future, including, perhaps, governor Gavin Newsom, will likely continue right up to the bitter end.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.