Tag Archives: ab238

Cable and telco lobbyists block broadband infrastructure subsidies in California

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Money walks when bullshit talks.

A plan to add more money to the main fund used to subsidise broadband infrastructure in California – the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) – is stalled, likely fatally. Assembly bill 238 would also have raised the minimum speed for acceptable service to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up, once areas with service that doesn’t even meet the current 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up have a shot at upgrading and service at that level is available to 98% of Californian homes.

Assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz) pulled the bill from the agenda for a key committee meeting on Monday, following a meeting yesterday with cable and telephone company lobbyists, regional broadband consortia members, rural county representatives, executives from the California Emerging Technology Fund and others, including me. Because of the way legislative deadlines work, if the bill isn’t approved by the assembly utilities and commerce committee on Monday, it’s very unlikely to go any further.

It’s a tactical retreat. Given the strident and odiferous opposition from cable and telco lobbyists – not just at yesterday’s meeting but also in one-on-one talks with committee members – it was as certain as it can be that there weren’t enough yes votes to be had.

Frontier is the only major incumbent that’s been willing to play with the CASF program, and now that it’s taking over Verizon’s wireline systems it should be even more enthusiastic. But it’s clear that most would prefer to have CASF die a quick and quiet death. Cable companies won’t touch anything that might entangle them with state regulators. AT&T and Verizon are all about mobile, and aren’t interested in investing in wireline service. Most of all, cable companies and mobile carriers are upset that independent competitors are getting CASF subsidies.

Odds are the lobbyists will get their wish, at least where AB 238, which is a holdover from last year, is concerned. The window to revive it is all but closed. But 2016 is a new year, and there’s still the chance that a new bill can start the game afresh.

Higher speeds and more money for Californian broadband infrastructure subsidies proposed

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Adding money to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for broadband infrastructure projects and raising the minimum acceptable speed for Californians to 25 Mbps down/3Mbps up is back on the table in Sacramento.

Assembly bill 238, authored by assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz), would do that. It was introduced last year, but put on hold, largely because of opposition from rural interests. The fear was that raising the minimum speed would take money from rural areas – many of which don’t have broadband service available at the current minimum 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps – and give it to urban and suburban communities where available service is merely below average, as opposed to being completely substandard.

As a practical matter, it’s not a huge danger. There are relatively few urban/suburban areas in California where 25/3 service isn’t already available. Changing the standard would actually have a bigger impact in rural California, where fixed and mobile wireless broadband operators are increasingly claiming to offer 6/1.5 levels of service but can’t deliver on anything like a comprehensive or consistent basis. Or at prices most households can reasonably afford.

The current rewrite of the bill addresses those concerns, though, by giving priority to areas that qualify for CASF subsidies under the 6/1.5 criteria, at least until 98% of the state is served at that level. It also takes care of another problem: CASF is running out of money. The way it’s structured now, the fund gets its money from a tax on telephone bills, but the total amount that may be collected is limited, both in total and on a yearly basis. AB 238 would remove those caps and give CASF a permanent source of funds.

There’s a meeting this afternoon in Sacramento where interested parties – incumbents, rural representatives and others involved in broadband development – will discuss and, likely, debate the current text. I’ll be there – it’s easily important enough to [take a day off from CES]().

Assembly bill 238 draft, as of 6 January 2016

Rural areas get biggest benefit from higher Californian broadband standard

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Another try at raising California’s minimum broadband standard to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up, from the current 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up level, is gathering momentum in Sacramento. Introduced earlier this year by Santa Cruz assemblyman Mark Stone, assembly bill 238 would have raised the bar both for eligibility requirements for California Advanced Service Fund (CASF) subsidies, and for the infrastructure that’s built using that money. It’s stalled now, due to unexpected opposition from rural interests as well as the usual suspects.

No surprise, incumbent telecoms companies are completely opposed to it. The cable industry’s lobbying front in Sacramento – the California Cable and Telecommunications Association – keeps pushing the false idea that CASF is only meant to fund infrastructure in areas that incumbents have decided to ignore completely, rather than also improving service in places where cable and telephone companies have let copper systems rot on the poles. Or, in the case of CCTA’s clients, claimed franchise areas and never built anything.

Telephone companies have been more circumspect in public statements; behind closed doors it’s different. At one meeting I attended, Verizon’s representative was not only loudly opposed to expanding the CASF program, he told such a bald faced lie – claiming it’s impossible for telco copper systems to support 25 Mbps – that even AT&T’s rep contradicted him.

Rural counties opposed AB 238 too, though, fearing that 1. money would be diverted to urban areas under the new standard and 2. requiring subsidised systems meet the 25/3 standard would break the business case for rural copper upgrades.

The first concern turned out to be misplaced. An analysis by the California Public Utilities Commission shows that the higher standard would increase the percentage of CASF-eligible homes in rural areas from 57% to 65%, based on wireline eligibility. Urban eligibility would barely budge, going from 2% to 3%. Even that’s an overstatement. Eligible urban homes tend to be in pockets that are too scattered to bundle up into a viable project area. Santa Cruz County – Stone’s district – was an exception until Comcast’s recent decision to upgrade to full DOCSIS 3 capability took it off the table. So urban eligibility might not even be as much as 3% anymore.

The question of how good subsidised rural infrastructure needs to be is a knottier one. In commitments made to the CPUC and the California Emerging Technology Fund, Frontier Communications insists on a lower standard – 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up in rural areas generally, and 25 Mbps down/2 Mbps up in selected, likely urban, areas. Although it’s aside from any CASF eligibility considerations, Frontier’s insistence on lower standards highlights a fundamental problem: rural copper systems were never lavishly provisioned in the first place, and decades of neglect combined with ever increasing 21st century bandwidth demands require expensive rebuilds and redesign of wireline infrastructure to plausibly meet the 25/3 standard. Simply upgrading network electronics, as Frontier evidently plans, won’t do it.

But CASF subsidies exist precisely because the cost of bringing rural broadband infrastructure up to modern standards is so steep. Spending the money on patchwork upgrades that fail to meet today’s minimum needs will guarantee continued economic decline in rural California.

Do your own thing is a poor way to plan broadband in California

by Steve Blum • , , ,

“The funding seems to be in silos, how do we break these silos down?”, asked assemblyman Jim Wood (D – Healdsburg) at the first meeting of the assembly’s select committee on the digital divide in California this morning. He was responding to presentations from representatives of organisations that specialise in developing broadband infrastructure for education, health care and public safety agencies. Those networks meet important needs, but for the most part have been, or are being, built with little or no consideration for overall broadband infrastructure development priorities in the state.

Wood’s question was rhetorical, but it’ll need to be answered as the committee he chairs does its work. Overall, broadband planning responsibilities at the state government level in California are scattered across dozens of different offices and departments. Caltrans, for example, doesn’t include broadband conduit in the road projects it builds, something that visibly frustrated Wood. “What the hell do we have to do to get that going,” he said.

“We have to shift how we think about our transportation network, it is a network first”, said assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz), who also took part in the hearing. “Yes, moving people but also moving data”.

Next year, Stone will bring back a stalled broadband planning bill he introduced in February. As it’s currently written, assembly bill 238 would set overall goals and specifically raise the minimum acceptable speed for broadband infrastructure projects subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up, from the current 6 down/1.5 up standard. It might end up going further though, and address some of the bureaucratic obstacles and narrowly focused priorities discussed today.

I’m involved in the AB 238 effort, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Harder push for faster broadband speeds in California

by Steve Blum • , , ,

California should raise its minimum standard for broadband, CPUC commissioner Catherine Sandoval said during yesterday’s meeting of the California Broadband Council in Sacramento. The goal “is to the increase the minimum speed that counts as served in California to mirror the FCC’s speed of 25 mbps down and 3 up”, she said. “I think it’s imperative that the state amend its definition”. Sandoval said she’ll be working to do that via existing California Public Utilities Commission processes, and also pointed to a bill sponsored by Santa Cruz legislator Mark Stone – assembly bill 238 – that would do the same thing.

Stone’s bill is on a two-year track now – negotiations to finalise the bill’s language didn’t come together in time to make this year’s deadline – but raising the minimum broadband service level that’s acceptable for Californians is on the table in the state capitol as well as at the CPUC. Carlos Ramos, chief information officer for the state government and the new chair of the council, questioned whether specific numbers should be baked into law. Sandoval said that standards should track with changing needs. “We certainly agree that it shouldn’t be 25/3 and then you need new legislation. There needs to be flexibility”.

Yesterday’s meeting was a reboot for the California Broadband Council. Sandoval is the CPUC’s new representative, replacing departed president Michael Peevey. Sunne Wright McPeak, CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, is the sole returning principal member. Sandoval and McPeak were joined by assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D – Los Angeles) and senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), chairs of the assembly and senate utilities committees, as well as Ramos and staff representatives from several state department

Clear and limited mandate proposed for CPUC’s broadband oversight role

by Steve Blum • , ,

OK to open it back up again.

A bill raising broadband standards in California also clears up any confusion about whether state regulators can do the job delegated to them by federal law. Assembly bill 238, authored by assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz), originally focused on upping the minimum acceptable service level to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up for projects subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). As just amended, it still does that, but also…

  • Levels the playing field somewhat for independent Internet service providers and cities and counties that want to chase CASF dollars. Incumbents and certified telecoms companies still would have priority, but all applicants would face the same restrictions regarding eligibility of areas for funding.
  • Gives a higher priority to areas where broadband service is particularly bad.
  • Allows the California Public Utilities Commission to update infrastructure standards in the future, to keep in line with federal benchmarks.

Most importantly, though, the bill now says that the CPUC’s job includes encouraging broadband deployment, which is a task that federal telecoms law splits between federal regulators and state commissions. The key paragraph is section 706 of the current telecoms act, which directs that the CPUC and their colleagues in other states…

Shall encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans…by utilizing…price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.

That section of federal law is the basis for the CPUC’s proposed conditions on Comcast’s consumption of Time Warner and Charter cable systems in California.

The confusion comes from a law passed three years ago that barred the CPUC from regulating Internet protocol services. It’s not about broadband infrastructure, though, and it specifically allows the CPUC to do work that’s required by federal law. But it’s a handy club for lawyers to swing, and Stone’s bill would take it out of their hands, without touching any of the limits actually placed on the CPUC by California’s existing public utilities law.

An assembly committee hearing on AB 238 is scheduled for next week in Sacramento.

Update: the hearing was bumped, now it’s set for the week of 20 April.

I’m involved in the AB 238 effort, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

California legislature considers raising broadband standard to 25 Mbps

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Californians can and should go faster.

While we’re waiting for the FCC to let us know what it actually did in its net neutrality and muni broadband decisions last week, let’s take a look at new broadband development bill that’s in the hopper in Sacramento: assembly bill 238, introduced by assemblyman Mark Stone (D – Santa Cruz).

Stone wants to raise the minimum broadband speed in California to meet the FCC’s recently adopted 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up standard. If a given area doesn’t have at least one provider (presumably truthfully) advertising service at that speed, then it would be eligible for broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF)…

In California, home to the development of much of the world’ s most advanced telecommunications technology, 2.6 million people do not have access to any services offering wireline 25Mbps/3Mbps broadband speeds. The lack of access especially affects people living in rural counties…It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation to pursue the deployment of advanced telecommunications services with broadband speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream in all areas of the state.

Currently, the California Public Utilities Commission sets the Californian minimum at 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up, but hints are emerging that it might adopt the FCC’s standard on its own, with or without legislative urging.

AB 238 would also remove the end-of–2015 deadline for approving CASF projects. Which makes sense, since legislative time tables mean it’s unlikely that Stone’s bill, if approved, would take effect until next year. Next stop for AB 238 is the assembly utilities and communication committee, which hasn’t scheduled a hearing on it yet.