Support for PG&E as a telecoms competitor, if that’s all it is

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

I’ll show you a pole attachment.

Seven objections, of one variety or another, were filed against PG&E’s bid to be certified as a telecommunications company by the California Public Utilities Commission. Links to all are below.

Three came from industry players, including Crown Castle, which has a growing and competitive fiber footprint in California, and two lobbying fronts, one for cable operators and the other for competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), which are companies that largely rely on reselling access to physical facilities owned by big telcos and fiber network owners. Like, say, PG&E.

All three focused on access to PG&E’s utility poles. While not objecting to the direct threat PG&E poses, they don’t want it leveraging its gatekeeper position as a monopoly electric utility to squash telecoms competitors. As the cable industry’s lobbyists – the California Cable and Telecommunications Association – put it, “any [certification] granted must specifically address PG&E’s obligations to provide nondiscriminatory access to its [right of way] for all communication attachments”. Fair enough.

The remaining four objections – from the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates, the City and County of San Francisco and consumer advocates TURN and the Greenlining Institute – each had its own, idiosyncratic leitmotif. But all shared the common theme of competition is good, but who gets the money? Unlike major incumbent telcos, who escaped CPUC micro-management decades ago, electric utilities are subject to painstaking review of costs, pricing and distribution of profits.

So the universal assumption – and PG&E is in that universe – is that any profits from the fiber business will benefit electric customers. PG&E proposes to give back half of its fiber profits to electric customers; alternate opinions range from maybe a bit more to pretty much all of it to and give everyone a pony, too.

On the whole, it’s good news for broadband infrastructure development in California. The two primary issues – pole access and profit distribution – are easy to solve. What is far, far more difficult is quickly injecting thousands of miles of new fiber into California’s telecoms market. The faster the CPUC gets it done, the better for all.

Comments of the Greenlining Institute
Crown Castle Response
Protest of the Office of Ratepayer Advocates
Protest of TURN
Protest of the California Association of Competitive Telecommunications Companies
Response of the California Cable and Telecommunications Association
Response of The City and County Of San Francisco
Response of The City and County Of San Francisco (Exhibit)