Tag Archives: bay area council

California-style regulation can kill or cure broadband, study says

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Reducing regulatory complexity, uncertainty and reach is the key to improving California’s broadband infrastructure, according to a report published by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. The study assessed the telecommunications and energy infrastructure necessary to successfully competing in a 21st century economy, and the steps needed to get it.

The focus of the telecoms recommendations was regulation, both at the local planning and permitting level and by the California Public Utilities Commission. Environmental regulations were singled out as a particular barrier…

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is considered another cost and delay factor in any infrastructure development that involves trenching or surface disturbance. CEQA compliance processes can take years, often the result of legal challenges and local opposition to the project. “Many fine California city proposals for the Google Fiber project were ultimately passed over in part because of the regulatory complexity here brought about by CEQA and other rules,” said Milo Medin, Google’s Vice President of Access Services, following the company’s decision to launch its service in Kansas City.

Another area of concern is the extent and focus of the CPUC’s oversight efforts. On the one hand, mandates to continue Plain Old Telephone service conflict with efforts to upgrade networks, according to the study. On the other, future regulation of broadband or, particularly, voice over Internet protocol phone service beyond what the Federal Communications Commission does at the national level could put California at a competitive disadvantage: higher regulatory costs would make the state less attractive as an investment proposition.

I was on the institute’s task group that looked at basic telecoms infrastructure, and generally agree with the study’s conclusions. Except its rosy view of competition in California’s broadband ecosystem: the establishment of a telco/cable broadband duopoly in urban and suburban areas means less choice, not more, and even that model fails in rural parts of the state. There’s a difference between competition-killing regulation and the not-so-benign neglect that facilitates state-sanctioned monopolies.

Bay Area Council expert roundtable finds common ground on broadband challenges

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A wide ranging conversation on Californian broadband development policy last week amongst a diverse collection of policy makers, academics, consultants and Internet businesses ended with broad, if not unconditional, agreement that making progress requires meeting four major challenges.

The first is extending the diversity and capacity of network connections that are clustered in the San Francisco Bay Area, coastal Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, San Diego and Sacramento into smaller inland metro areas and rural communities. Second, new financing models are needed in order to attract investment – private and public sector – into both competitive broadband infrastructure and incumbent-owned networks that are being milked for short term profit rather than managed for long term sustainability.

I was on the task group that addressed the third challenge: easy access to existing conduit, poles and fiber and to right of ways and other public assets that can support new infrastructure development. Solutions revolved around the idea of uniform, rationalised rules such as model policies coordinated by organisations like the League of California Cities or adopted at the state level, modernised telecoms regulation – by 21st century function and not by 19th and 20th century legacy origins – and neutral, open access rules for telecoms assets, rather than the current impenetrable maze of rights and restrictions.

The final challenge was bringing together all the strands of California’s scattered broadband policy development and implementation into a coordinated statewide strategy.

The roundtable was organised by the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute, as part of its 21st century infrastructure development project.