Tag Archives: broadband

CPUC urged to keep broadband promotion subsidies provider neutral


Broadband promotion grant rules should have air tight guarantees that the money won’t be used to promote any particular Internet service provider. That’s the consensus of several organisations that reacted to a draft decision that would have the California Public Utilities Commission set up a broadband “adoption” program, subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

As the new rules were being developed, big, incumbent ISPs argued, in effect, that they should be able to leverage the money to supplement their subscriber acquisition – aka sales – efforts. The first draft of the rules is a little ambiguous on that point. Although the money would flow through (presumably) non-profit organisations, partnerships with ISPs are encouraged. No one seems opposed with the idea of working with ISPs. After all, the goal is to convince more Californians to buy Internet access and join the online world. ISPs have to be part of the mix for that to happen.

But exclusive deals are something else again. Big ISPs such as AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast and Charter Communications don’t play well with others. As anyone who has watched the parade of sock puppets that the big carriers march into legislative hearings can tell you, when they can rope non-profits into working for them, they will. In its comments to the CPUC, the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) said Frontier wants to do exactly that…

Currently, CETF is being pressured by Frontier Communications to have CBO grantees for adoption outreach market only Frontier’s affordable offer. This is contrary to the role of a non-profit organization to educate a potential subscriber to all affordable offers available, and help choose the best one for his or her needs.

Most of CETF’s funding comes from Frontier and Charter these days, to run such subscriber acquisition campaigns in their territories.

The Greenlining Institute, TURN (aka the Utility Reform Network, aka Toward Utility Rate Normalisation) and the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates also pushed for clear language banning exclusive deals between grant recipients and ISPs. As TURN and Greenlining put it

The Commission should ensure that those partnerships do not require digital literacy programs to exclusively promote one Internet Service Provider’s services at the expense of competition and informed consumer choice. These program participants are exceptionally vulnerable in that they have been recently introduced to the internet and on-line environment and presumably have little to no knowledge regarding the various options and “players” in the marketplace. These consumers will likely be looking to these programs for guidance and advice on adoption options. These consumers should not be misled or otherwise given the impression that they do not have a choice for internet services through program materials, branding, or other marketing materials solely from the ISP partner that would likely be accessible during the grant- funded program.

Rebuttals, should there be any, are due next week. The CPUC is scheduled to make a final decision on 21 June 2018.

The complete set of CASF reboot documents is here.

SCE proposes doing CPUC reviews the old, costly way to save its fiber business


Instead of shooting Southern California Edison’s fiber business in the head, the California Public Utilities Commission might have shot itself in the foot. Earlier this year, commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen drafted a plan to kill the business model that the CPUC approved for SCE’s dark fiber leasing enterprise nearly 20 years ago. It was in response to a request from SCE for approval of a high volume master fiber lease agreement it negotiated with Verizon.

In a recent closed door meeting with Rechtschaffen’s staff (plus an advisor to commissioner Lianne Randolph), SCE proposed scrapping the master lease and using the existing time and labor intensive – for SCE and the CPUC – method of reviewing each new agreement individually.

The original idea was to get the CPUC’s blessing for the overall terms of the deal, to avoid the necessity of submitting each, individual route lease for review. It would have meant less work for everyone involved, and allowed SCE to lease more dark fiber more quickly, first to Verizon and then presumably to any other broadband carrier or customer that, with the CPUC’s approval, negotiated a similar master lease agreement.

Neither efficiency or the broadband needs of Californian consumers seemed to be on Rechtschaffen’s mind. He proposed changing the revenue sharing arrangement from 90% of gross fiber leasing income going to SCE and 10% to its electric customers, to 25% to SCE and 75% to ratepayers. SCE argued – correctly – that taking away the lion’s share of the revenue would remove the financial incentive for it to pursue more fiber business. That would knock a major independent competitor out of the southern California telecoms market.

By submitting fiber leases the old way – which it still has the right to do, so far – SCE maintains an incentive to continue competing…

Like all other dark fiber leases for the last 19 years, the lease route orders under the MLA would receive the revenue sharing mechanism designated for dark fiber leases in [the original 1999 CPUC decision]

It’s not ideal – repetitive item by item review is a waste of taxpayers’ money – but it is a solution that would preserve a competitive fiber market in southern California. Rechtschaffen hasn’t responded yet, and might not do so publicly. SCE’s original application is still pending – what eventually happens with it will tell the story.

Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom


If you’re reading this post, the Internet did not explode when network neutrality control rods were yanked this morning. The Federal Communications Commission made today the day that its repeal of bright line net neutrality no-nos – no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation – takes effect.

The federal appeals court challenge to the FCC’s action hasn’t gone anywhere yet, except to bounce from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, and back again. As of Friday afternoon, no one had even asked the D.C. circuit court to put the FCC’s rollback on hold. The case is still active, but so far it’s just chugging along at the speed of justice – slow. It could be years before legal challenges to the FCC decision are complete.

The effort to overturn the decision in the U.S. congress isn’t moving even that fast. Although it was narrowly approved by the U.S. senate, the resolution of disapproval is stalled in the house of representatives. The Verge hopefully reports that it’s “less than 50 votes from passing”, which is another way of saying that not even all democrats are on board with it. You can check the list here.

The smart money says that the big players, including Comcast, Charter Communications, AT&T and Frontier Communications, won’t rush to subdivide the Internet into walled gardens. If you take them at their word, they will begin channeling traffic into paid-for fast lanes and free slow lanes. But even that’s not likely to happen quickly. They will be careful not to needlessly antagonise federal lawmakers ahead of the November elections, when net neutrality will be a campaign issue, or while the resolution of disapproval is still on the table.

They’ll also want to keep the heat down while they try to beat back efforts in the California legislature to reinstate net neutrality obligations at the state level. Senate bill 460, the weaker of the two net neutrality revival attempts, is scheduled for a hearing in the assembly communications and conveyances committee on Wednesday. It’s possible that SB 822, the beefier bill, will join it.

California broadband subsidy law demands equal treatment for all, rich and poor alike


One of the mysteries surrounding Californian subsidies for broadband infrastructure is the abysmally low standard that the California Public Utilities Commission imposes on the people who live in public housing, and only on them. The thicket of laws that govern the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) initially set aside $20 million to pay for broadband facilities in public housing communities, with the possibility of adding more when it runs out.

The CPUC is in the middle of rebooting the CASF program, after the California legislature added to the mess by turning the general infrastructure subsidy program – with $300 million in new money – into a piggy bank for AT&T and Frontier Communications. In the process, it’s freshening up the rules for improving broadband access in public housing.

The first draft of the new rules keeps the minimum service speed for subsidised public housing broadband facilities at 1.5 Mbps for downloads, with no requirement at all for uploads. That contrasts with the 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps minimum that the CPUC (and the legislature) thinks is good enough for everyone else. It isn’t, but that’s a separate barrel of pork.

The draft rules justify digging a deeper digital divide by declaring subsidised broadband in public housing is “not intended to replicate the robust level of connectivity of a commercial provider”. The problem with that, as pointed out in comments filed yesterday by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, is that the language of the law – sausage though it may be – sets the same standards for everyone…

Because 1. An unserved residence is one where service at 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds is not available, 2. Grants for broadband infrastructure projects in Public Housing may only be made to an unserved residence, and 3. The purpose of all CASF infrastructure projects is to raise the service available to all Californians above the statutorily defined unserved threshold, we must conclude that it would be illegal to fund an infrastructure project, of any kind, that did not provide service at 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds or better.

The CPUC is due to vote on the changes at its 21 June 2018 meeting.

The complete set of CASF reboot documents is here.

I drafted and filed the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s comments. I’m not trying to feign impartiality. Take it for what it’s worth.

Correction: an earlier version of this post contained a typo. The minimum speed that CASF-subsidised broadband projects in public housing communities must “provide residents with” is “1.5 mbps per unit”, not 1 Mbps per unit. The fault is mine and it’s been corrected above.

FCC caught in lies about flood of net neutrality comments


The Federal Communications Commission lied when it claimed its online public comment system was blocked by a deliberate and malicious cyber attack, after HBO’s John Oliver issued a call to arms over plans to repeal network neutrality rules. Then it lied again to protect the first lie. That’s the conclusion of an investigation into the incident by Gizmodo.

As I blogged about at the time, the FCC’s online system came to a grinding halt, apparently after being flooded with automated comments of dubious origin that supported the repeal. In a press release, the FCC blamed it on “multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDos)”. Later, according to Gizmodo, the FCC tried to back up that statement by saying a similar attack knocked out its comment system in 2014.

According to documents pieced together by Gizmodo, both claims were false…

Internal emails reviewed by Gizmodo lay bare the agency’s [2017] efforts to counter rife speculation that senior officials manufactured a cyberattack, allegedly to explain away technical problems plaguing the FCC’s comment system amid its high-profile collection of public comments on a controversial and since-passed proposal to overturn federal net neutrality rules…

David Bray, who served as the FCC’s chief information officer from 2013 until June 2017, assured reporters in a series of off-the-record exchanges that a DDoS attack had occurred three years earlier. More shocking, however, is that Bray claimed Wheeler, the former FCC chairman, had covered it up.

Bray responded in a blog post of his own, saying picky, picky, picky

Whether the correct phrase is denial of service or “bot swarm” or “something hammering the Application Programming Interface” (API) of the commenting system — the fact is something odd was happening in May 2017.

That’s kind of like calling the police and saying you can’t leave your house because you’re under siege by a North Korean special forces battalion, but when they show up, they find you drove home drunk and parked your car too close to the garage door.

Well, okay officer. But I swear, something odd was happening.

Priority lanes the top priority for big ISPs, when net neutrality ends


When the FCC’s repeal of network neutrality rules takes effect, as is likely, a week from tomorrow on 11 June 2018, you can expect the big Internet service providers to move slowly toward paid prioritisation. The moment they think they can get away with it, they’ll begin selling fast lanes to online content and service companies (edge providers, as they’re called) and giving their in-house content the same boost.

Paid prioritisation, throttling and blocking are three “bright line” practices that the 2015 FCC order banned, and they’re all interrelated. The technical details are different, but the result is the same: some traffic goes first, some traffic goes last.

Throttling and blocking – slowing down or completely stopping less profitable traffic – probably won’t happen. It’s unnecessary. If, say, Netflix pays AT&T to clear a path for its video traffic, then, say, YouTube ends up in the slow lane by default. Unless YouTube also writes AT&T a big, fat check. It’s a heads I win, tails you lose business proposition for big ISPs.

That’s why lobbyists speaking on behalf of AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and Frontier Communications are waving sacks of cash arguing so eloquently in Sacramento, hoping to stop the California legislature from banning paid prioritisation.

The winners will be the ISPs with the most market share – Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Verizon. Big, established web platforms like Netflix, Google and Facebook will also benefit. They can bear the cost of paid prioritisation. New, innovative and competitive companies will be at a distinct disadvantage. The Internet will no longer be an even playing field where small companies can successfully challenge the big ones simply by offering a superior service to consumers.

Back in the day, that’s how two small start ups – Google and Facebook – took on the market leaders – Yahoo and My Space – and won. Paid prioritisation puts market controlling power back in the hands of a relative few companies. It’ll be a return to the managed content business of the 1980s and 1990s.

FCC appoints a pack of dingos to guard the broadband baby


The Federal Communications Commission named a fifteen member “working group” on Friday, and charged it with the “harmonisation” of local and state broadband policies developed by its Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC).

Only five of the fifteen members come from local or state agencies.

Nearly all of the rest are telecoms industry lobbyists, including capos from AT&T and Comcast. The working group’s chair, Elizabeth Bowles, is “primarily responsible for directing the legislative strategy for WISPA, the trade association for the fixed wireless broadband industry”, according to her LinkedIn profile. Translation: lobbyist.

I say nearly all, because former Google Fiber boss Milo Medin has industry cred, even if he’s now out of the firing line and “in some undisclosed role at Google Fiber’s parent company Alphabet”. Industry guy yes, lobbyist no.

Another member, Brent Skorup, is a fledgling academic in the Beltway swamp. I’ll simply refer you to former Harvard president Derek Bok’s quote here, and leave it at that.

The harmonisation group – also called a “reconciliation” committee – is supposed to iron out discrepancies in draft model policies for state and local governments. Both documents have useful suggestions for streamlining permit processes and intelligently managing access to the public right of way. But they also take different views of municipal broadband – the industry-dominated state policy group wants to kill it, while the local policy team simply leaves it alone. The proposed state-level guidelines also go a long way toward preempting any local control over broadband related land use or encroachment decisions.

BDAC has been rightfully slammed for being dominated by telecoms lobbyists, who big footed compromise language negotiated by local representatives and substituted their own wish lists. That’s typical Beltway banditry, and it’s kicking into high gear as the committee’s work nears the end. Don’t expect an even handed or rational result from the harmonisation group: as one lobbyist chuckled during the last BDAC meeting, “reconciliation can be whatever we want it to be”.

CPUC offers plan to increase Internet use in communities that need it most


Disadvantaged communities are first in line for broadband education, marketing and access grants subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) in a draft plan to implement a new “adoption” program run by the California Public Utilities Commission. The proposed decision, by commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, also tweaks existing subsidies for broadband service and promotion in public housing communities and winds down a defunct infrastructure loan program.

Two kinds of adoption projects will be funded: digital literacy – i.e. training and marketing – efforts and broadband access programs that offer free Internet access and computer centers.

The proposed rules favor big projects. Grant proposals up to $100,000 will get expedited treatment – staff can say yes or no, without spending months on a formal vote by commissioners.

The draft has a simplified checklist that CPUC staff will use to rank proposals. Communities where annual median income is at or below $49,200 or where half the residents have limited English ability or have “only a high school diploma or less”, or have “some other demonstrated disadvantage which affects broadband adoption” will get priority. So will rural areas and projects that have community support and/or partnerships, and offer low or no cost Internet access.

The big telephone and cable companies wanted these programs to be tilted in their direction. Frontier thought those programs should be linked to its CASF-subsidised infrastructure projects, while the lobbying front for Comcast and Charter Communications – the California Cable and Telecommunications Association – gushed over the idea that grants should be tied to “partnerships” with incumbents, albeit non-exclusively. Guzman Aceves rejected Frontier’s cash grab, and broadened the allowable range of partnerships to include local community groups, non-profit and for-profit companies and any “other applicable organisation”. Incumbents can still play, but they don’t get a privileged position.

The public housing program was left largely unchanged. Cable company lobbyists failed to insert additional roadblocks. Service levels for subsidised broadband facilities in public housing communities are still pitifully poor, with a minimum download speed of 1.5 Mbps and no standard at all for upload speed.

The draft also closes down the broadband infrastructure loan program, which was scrapped by the legislature last year. Existing loans will continue as is, and the two pending loan applications will be converted to grants.

The schedule calls for the CPUC to vote on the proposed decision at its 21 June 2018 meeting, with the first round of applications accepted on 1 July 2018. Comments on the draft are due on 7 June 2018.

The complete set of CASF reboot documents is here.

CPUC posts proposed new rules for Internet adoption, public housing broadband grants


This morning, commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves released a draft plan for giving out grants to broadband adoption programs, revising an existing grant program that pays for broadband facilities in California’ public housing communities, and winding down a defunct broadband infrastructure loan account. You can read it here:

Proposed decision by commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, implementing CASF broadband adoption program and modifying the CASF public housing broadband and infrastructure loan programs, 18 May 2018

You can find the background documents here.

I haven’t read through it all yet, so I’ll reserve comment until Monday. Enjoy your weekend!

Dozens of ISPs qualify to bid on FCC broadband subsidies, hundreds more in line


Almost three hundred companies could be bidding for broadband service subsidies when the Federal Communications Commission begins auctioning off unserved rural territory across the United States. The FCC received 277 applications from companies that want to participate in the Connect America Fund program’s reverse auction, which is scheduled for late July.

Only 47 are good to go, though. The other 230 companies – including Frontier Communications – didn’t fully complete their applications, in the eyes of the FCC. They’ll have until 5 June 2018 to fix whatever problems they have.

AT&T and Verizon are in. Expanding wireline broadband service doesn’t seem to be top of mind for AT&T, though. It joined the auction via its “New Cingular Wireless” subsidiary – its mobile arm, in other words. That’s consistent with AT&T often stated intention of replacing rural broadband networks with wireless service. Verizon, on the other hand, left the door open for both its mobile or wireline companies to take part.

Comcast is represented, sorta. It owns half of Midcontinent Communications, a regional cable company based in South Dakota which submitted a complete application for the auction. Given that Midcontinent serves mostly rural and small market communities, it probably has a genuine – and limited – interest in some of the available territories.

Only one unambiguously Californian Internet service provider is on the complete list, Geolinks, a Ventura County based wireless ISP.

The auction has a lot of moving pieces. The FCC published a maximum subsidy for every remaining eligible area – i.e. where broadband service at 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds aren’t available. Companies will, presumably, bid each other down until the lowest price wins. But, they’ll also get extra points if they propose higher speeds or better quality of service metrics. Then, all the winning bids for all the areas have to be ranked – the FCC only has about $2 billion available, versus a total reserve price of $6 billion.

The odds of every unserved community making the cut are extremely low.