AT&T doesn’t want to be bothered with any performance requirements or public disclosures. It just wants the California Public Utilities Commission to write it a monthly check, drawn on the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Boiled down, that’s its idea for rebooting CASF, following its success at convincing California lawmakers to turn the program into its own private piggy bank.
In that respect, AT&T is being consistent. But there is one, big whopper in the recommendations it submitted last month: AT&T claims the “communications environment” is “hypercompetitive”.
California’s broadband market is concentrated in the hands of just a few players. Places where there are more than two wireline providers are rare. When broadband subsidies are on the table, that duopoly turns into a monopoly. Both California and federal infrastructure subsidies are effectively limited to communities bypassed by cable companies. In its service territory, AT&T will only get taxpayer money where it’s the only game in town.
That’s not hypercompetitive. That’s not competitive. That’s a monopoly.
Frontier Communications, Comcast and Charter Communications also want to fence off service areas where their service is substandard or nonexistent. Frontier and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association – Comcast’s and Charter’s joint lobbying front organisation – are both urging the CPUC to allow them to challenge proposed infrastructure projects at any time, for any reason. Frontier, in particular, abuses the challenge process – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – by submitting late and often unsupportable service claims.
Most of the comments from other organisations, including those that I drafted for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, urge the CPUC to set reasonable limits on challenges. The endless attacks on independent projects by incumbents is a major reason that reviews of proposed projects can stretch out for more than two years.
The CASF program’s purpose is to improve California’s broadband infrastructure, not to protect monopoly businesses at taxpayers’ expense. It’s time to end the delays and make incumbents accountable, for both the service they provide and the claims they make about it.