Tag Archives: ab1299

Broadband rocks the 80s in California public housing

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

There’s an odd debate going on over whether broadband service standards should be lower in public housing projects than in the rest of California, at least when the infrastructure is subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund.

The California Public Utilities Commission is developing rules for spending $20 million on upgrading broadband facilities in public housing. The money comes from the same pot as the state’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program, which sets a minimum of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds for systems it funds.

Except maybe when those systems are in public housing projects.

A CPUC staff report started out by recommending that subsidised public housing broadband facilities meet the same capacity standards as other CASF-funded systems…

Staff recommends the Commission require applicants to build networks capable of providing Commission-defined served speeds, but not insist on bandwidth requirements.

That’s fine up to a point: whatever is built should be capable of supporting modern broadband needs and speeds, and there’s nothing wrong with offering subscribers the option of paying less for slower service. But if a basic price – $10 per month?, $20? – is set for public housing residents, then the basic service should meet the same minimum speed that other Californians can expect as a baseline (albeit with slower, cheaper options available) when taxpayers are footing the bill.

There’s no consensus on that point, though. The California Emerging Technology Fund is recommending that the basic public housing service speed be set at 1.5 Mbps up and down, and the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates is pushing for 3 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up.

There’s little reason not to use the 6 down/1.5 up standard. If standard ethernet cabling and reasonable electronics are installed, capacity is not an issue. The only significant limiting factor is the amount of backhaul bandwidth available, but that’s something that can be determined ahead of time and there are few enough circumstances where stinginess is truly justified.

On the other hand, if wireless distribution is used – WiFi, for example – both capacity and service levels become problematic. Which is true regardless of the backhaul bandwidth available. Which is why any grant application that proposes to use wireless technology to distribute broadband service within a public housing project should be treated with extreme skepticism.

Making public housing eligible for CASF infrastructure grants was a good idea, justified by broadband’s potential for creating opportunities and improving the quality of life for residents. They shouldn’t be short changed by making them captives of inadequate technology, shoddy engineering or poor service.

Broadband subsidies for public housing might be wrapped in less red tape

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Assuming there aren’t back channel conversations going on, there seems to be something like a consensus forming around draft rules proposed for subsidising broadband facilities and marketing programs in public housing in California.

Earlier this month, the California Public Utilities Commission released recommendations for spending $20 million on upgrading broadband infrastructure in public housing and $5 million on programs to encourage residents to subscribe to and use Internet services. The money was part of a grand deal made last year to top up the California Advanced Services Fund and expand eligibility – at least in theory – to independent Internet service providers and, to an even more limited extent, local governments.

Yesterday, four organisations – the California Emerging Technology Fund, TURN, Valley Vision and the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates (ORA) – filed comments on the plan. Rather than the horrified response earlier ideas produced, the comments mostly fiddled around the edges, suggesting tweaks to the plan rather than wholesale overhauls.

The most contentious point is the idea of allowing CPUC staff to approve grants based on particular criteria, rather than going through the commission’s formal – and lengthy and costly – decision making process. The original thought was to set the limit for expedited review at $500,000 per grant – which is what provoked the horror from ORA – but the latest draft scaled that back to $75,000. ORA let the lower figure slip past without comment; the others urged higher amounts. Whatever the final number, the apparent consensus on cutting red tape is what counts – there’s at least a hope of a fast and rational decision making process at this point.

There’s one more round of comments, then the next step will be writing draft rules to be considered by the commission. With luck, the program could be approved and in motion by the end of September.

Independent ISPs have a shot at California public housing broadband program

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Fast, focused, low cost and sustainable projects are the answer to the problem of how to extend modern Internet access into publicly supported housing. That’s the conclusion of a report prepared by California Public Utilities Commission staff that lays out recommendations for implementing assembly bill 1299 – approved last year – which spends money from the California Advanced Services Fund on broadband facilities and marketing programs in public housing.

The report carefully draws boundaries. Inside wiring and networking equipment would qualify for CASF subsidies, backhaul fiber installed out in the street gets squat. In theory. CASF money is only part of the business plan – the capital expense part – so applicants have to have a long term operations plan…

Staff recommends the Commission award grants and loans to finance up to 100 percent of the installation costs, but not maintenance or operation costs. Additionally…staff recommends that the Commission require grantees to maintain and operate the network for five years after receiving Commission funding.

Operating networks is not a sweet spot for public housing authorities or non-profits. That’s a job that independent Internet service providers know best. Unfortunately, ISPs won’t be eligible to get the money directly – that’s written into the law – but there will be an opportunity to work with public housing operators, which are eligible.

The report includes a long list of other recommended requirements and restrictions, including technical specifications. The commission is taking comments on the report until 28 July 2014, and rebuttals for ten days after that. The next step is a formal draft resolution that will lay out the rules in detail, which will go through the same comment/reply cycle before the commission votes on it. If all goes to plan – but don’t plan on it – the program will be in place by the end of September, setting up a December application window.

Horror abounds as CPUC considers streamlining public housing grants

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The terror of a legal haircut.

Another month has been added to the timeline for accepting grant applications for broadband facilities and marketing programs in public housing projects, as the California Public Utilities Commission wrestles with how to set up and run the program, which was created by the legislature last year. And if the commission’s office of ratepayer advocates has its way, the process will take even longer.

The ORA critiques what commissioners and the rest of the CPUC staff propose to do – after all, you can’t just leave the job up to the multitude of public advocacy groups that the commission also pays to offer advice – and it has weighed in on a proposed plan for making a plan to propose rules for the public housing subsidy program. One idea that was floated was to speed things up by eliminating the need for commissioners to vote on each individual grant application, a laborious process that involves the preparation and, well, critique of long, legalistic draft resolutions. ORA’s staff attorneys were gobsmacked

ORA finds it shocking that the CPUC would consider less oversight, public input, and transparency when awarding ratepayer funds. The resolution process makes the Commission’s decision-making transparent, which is a necessary part of the public process. For these reasons, ORA submits that the Commission must approve each grant and loan under this program.

The counter argument is that standard commission procedures eat up a lot of staff time and add months of delays, which also burns ratepayer money and, incidentally, makes it very difficult for members of the public to follow what’s going on. Commissioners and staff are, for example, still chewing through the stack of California Advanced Services Fund applications they received more than a year ago. The process for vetting future grant and loan applications – for broadband infrastructure or public housing programs – needs to be rationalised and streamlined, not further ossified. Speedy reviews done according to concise, clearly written rules will do a lot more to add transparency to the process than wrapping it in layers of red tape.

Public housing broadband subsidies raise hard questions for CPUC

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

Cable comes knocking.

The California Public Utilities Commission is trying to untangle the can of worms created by the state legislature last year, when it passed assembly bill 1299, which sets up broadband subsidy programs for public housing projects. It was part of the package that added $90 million to the California Advanced Services Fund and extended eligibility for infrastructure grants and loans.

A ruling issued by commission president Michael Peevey last week contains a long list of questions – 39, in fact – that need answering before the CPUC can spend $20 million on broadband facilities in public housing projects and $5 million to market service to residents. It all boils down to three areas of concern:

  • Can public housing subsidy programs be run using procedures, standards and an ethos developed to manage grants and loans to private sector broadband providers, or are new rules needed?
  • Which projects and programs are eligible and which aren’t, given the twists and turns of the legislation and the complex – often byzantine – public housing ecosystem?
  • How do you manage a poison pill dropped into the law at the behest of cable lobbyists: a public housing project is not eligible for CASF subsidies unless it also allows cable companies (among other broadband providers) access to its residents.

Anyone who’s interested can offer advice. The first round of comments are due on 10 February 2014 and the commission will follow up with a series of public workshops, currently planned for March and April of this year. And then there will be more reports, drafts and public comments, with a final decision anticipated to come in July.

No quick changes for Californian broadband subsidy program

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

Glaciers are slow, but reliably arrive.

Because it was tagged as urgency legislation and then approved by a two-thirds vote of the California legislature, senate bill 740 took effect the moment it was signed by Governor Brown. Even so, don’t expect any immediate changes to the way the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is managed or broadband construction subsidies are given out.

Eleven months ago, the California Public Utilities Commission began the lengthy process of changing CASF eligibility rules, under the assumption that the legislature would allow it. Even so, it’s still going to take six months to a year to finish rewriting the rules. Only then will the CPUC give cities and independent ISPs a chance to apply for CASF grants and loans.

An early draft of new rules was floated back in March. The general idea was to require something like the same level of financial scrutiny and collateral that telephone companies have to meet in order to be certified by the CPUC. The draft generated a fair number of comments and counter-comments that the CPUC administrative law judge working on the draft is still digesting.

Passage of SB 740 means the guess work ends and the CPUC can move ahead with writing rules to comply with it. The work done to date provides a good foundation, but it’s still many months from being complete.

Meanwhile, the CPUC is chewing through the CASF subsidy proposals submitted last February. If you take SB 740 at face value – it appears to reaffirm current CASF policy and practice – it should have no effect on the pending applications. But don’t bet the ranch that the incumbent cable and telephone companies that have been complaining bitterly about some of the proposals won’t try to use the new law to raise objections, legitimate or not.

Assembly bill 1299, which was also signed by the governor, doesn’t take effect until January. That gives the CPUC some breathing room to write rules for the public housing broadband programs it creates. Since it’s a relatively small amount of money – $20 million for broadband facilities and $5 million for marketing – and it has similarities with the regional broadband consortia program, writing those rules might not take so long.

Governor Brown signs California broadband subsidy bills into law

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

According to the sponsors of the legislation, Governor Brown has showered affection and money on Californian broadband backers, signing senate bill 740 and assembly bill 1299 into law. We’re all feeling the love now.

“Congratulations everyone, SB 740 has been signed by the Governor”, said SB 740 author senator Alex Padilla (D- Los Angeles). “I know a lot of hard work, dedication, and patience went into the bill, but it’s great to know that all the work has paid off.”

“Governor also signed AB 1299,” added assemblyman Steve Bradford (D – Los Angeles) and the author of AB 1299. “Thanks to the entire team for their support and dedication on both bills”.

Bradford was instrumental in getting both bills passed, resurrecting SB 740 from the dead after cable television lobbyists buried it with an avalanche of untruths.

You can all get back to work now.

SB 740 puts $90 million more into the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) and allows cities and independent Internet service providers to apply for grants and loans, albeit under very restricted conditions.

AB 1299 takes $20 million of that, plus $5 million from the existing CASF loan program, and gives it to public housing authorities to use for building broadband facilities and marketing those services to residents.

The remaining $70 million goes into the CASF infrastructure grant account, which, counting the projects approved today by the California Public Utilities Commission, will raise the eventual total to just about $200 million. I say eventual because it could take a while to collect all of it, maybe until 2020 or so.

Hat tip to the California Emerging Technology Fund for the news flash (and quotes), and for all the work they did to push these bills through a very difficult process. Thank you very much!

California legislature adds $90 million to broadband subsidy fund

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

What will Jerry do? No, the other one.

The California legislature approved senate bill 740 yesterday, adding $90 million to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) and widening, a bit, the list of broadband providers who can apply for construction subsidies.

The state assembly gave its blessing on a 59 to 16 vote, and sent it over to the senate, where it was approved 34 to 3. The bill now goes to Governor Brown for his approval, or not.

Assemblyman Steve Bradford (D- Los Angeles) spoke for the bill on the assembly floor, not without a bit of disingenuousness (although well within the customary Capitol allowance)…

“This bill give the PUC statutory authority to award infrastructure grants to entities such as wireless internet service providers, known as WISPs. The change will help reduce the overall amount of funding needed to achieve universal broadband access statewide because WISP technology costs substantially less per household served than the traditional providers to hard to reach areas.”

True enough, but the bill also puts severe – fatal, in most cases – restrictions on WISPs, cities or other independent broadband providers who want to apply for infrastructure grants and loans. Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D – Contra Costa County) was careful to point out that incumbent interests were protected

“The California Advanced Services Fund is a universal service subsidy program to fill in where there’s market failure, often in high cost rural remote sparsely populated areas where there’s no business case for private investment without a public subsidy…this bill ensures that the fund provides support only where private investment is lacking.”

“SB 740 prioritises and targets funding for households and communities that have no broadband service. SB 740 also guarantees existing providers the option to upgrade service before a new entity gets funding.”

A companion bill, AB 1299, was also approved by the senate yesterday, and is expected to be taken up by the assembly later this morning. It would spend $25 million on broadband facilities and marketing in public housing projects.

Clock ticking down on California broadband policy initiatives

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

High noon is nearer than it seems.

Of all the ancient traditions and lofty values of the California legislature, few have the moral imperative of the three day weekend. Although this Friday is a work day – the end of session deadline – on the official calendar, leaders in both the California senate and assembly want to wrap up business by tomorrow evening.

So today is critical to efforts to top up the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), and sorta expand eligibility for broadband infrastructure construction subsidies to independent Internet service providers and cities.

Senate bill 740 is the linchpin. If two-thirds of senators and assembly members agree, it’ll pump an extra $90 million into CASF. It’s been ready for a floor vote in the assembly since Monday, but it’s ranked low on the daily priority list. Yesterday, it came within a handful of bills of being called for a vote, but was put aside as assembly members cleared the deck for their customary 4 p.m. quitting time.

It was skipped over on previous days. Lining up the required two-thirds majority vote has always been a challenge, but yesterday it was looking like there was enough support amongst assembly members.

Assembly bill 1299, which sends $25 million from CASF towards broadband facilities and marketing in public housing projects and is legislatively linked to SB 740, was similarly left hanging in the senate.

Both bills are again scheduled to be considered today, but both are on the second half of the agenda, so there are no guarantees.

To complete the procrastination trifecta, Santa Cruz County supervisors decided to delay consideration of a wide ranging package of broadband deployment policies yesterday. The vote has been put off until 1 October 2013.

California broadband interests walk hand in hand in Sacramento

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Together forever.

Two broadband subsidy bills have been wrapped together in the California legislature, and appear to be on track for approval this coming week. Senate bill 740, which adds $90 million to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) and expands eligibility a bit, and assembly bill 1299, which gives $25 million of that money to public housing projects, now contain mirror language that make them all but inseparable.

It’s possible that the extra money could be approved even if the public housing piece is shot down, but the political horse trading that got the bills to this point make it unlikely. Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D – Los Angeles) initiated the push for broadband facilities and marketing subsidies in public housing, and became a necessary force behind the extra CASF money when cable lobbyists stalled the bill in his committee. He’s shepherding SB 740 in the assembly, and has tapped an ally, Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles), to speak for his bill, AB 1299, in the senate.

Bradford is accommodating to industry lobbyists, but he is a consistent advocate for urban interests too. Broadband infrastructure subsidies have long been an issue for rural areas, where it is easier to identify service gaps and find entrepreneurs willing to step in. AB 1299 may benefit only public housing agencies, clients and the non-profits that orbit them (plus incumbent carriers, of course), but it does create a common interest between sparsely populated (and frequently republican) rural counties and the metro areas where the California legislature’s democratic majority dominates.

The full assembly could vote on SB 740 as soon as Monday and the senate will likely take up AB 1299 on Tuesday. If approved, the bills will swap places for, presumably, one more vote to get both houses on board with all the changes that have been made. Then, it’s up to Governor Brown.