Tag Archives: broadband

Broadband speeds are the first casualty of truth

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Internet service offerings slow down when service providers are forced to advertise accurate speed levels. In particular, the speed of teaser packages, designed to lure in price conscious subscribers, fall by 41%. That’s the conclusion of a British consumer group, following a study of how ISP advertising practices changed in the wake of a new U.K. regulation that forces them to make accurate service claims.

The Consumers’ Association says the down shift was sudden, coming soon after the new rules took effect…

The majority of broadband providers have been forced to cut the headline speeds they advertise when selling deals, following recent changes to advertising rules, according to new [Consumers’ Association] research.

An analysis of the biggest broadband providers found that, since new rules were introduced by the Committees of Advertising Practice in May, 11 major suppliers have had to cut the advertised speed of some of their deals, with the cheapest deals dropping by 41%…

Previously, suppliers were able to advertise broadband deals which claimed ‘up-to’ speeds that only one in 10 customers would ever reach.

But the new advertising rules mean that at least half of customers must now be able to get an advertised average speed, even during peak times (8-10pm).

There’s no equivalent requirement in the U.S.

The Federal Communications Commission punted the consumer protection ball to the Federal Trade Commission. Even when it subsidises incumbent telcos, like AT&T and Frontier Communications, to provide 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload service in rural areas, it only expects them to hit 80% of that speed 80% of the time.

The California legislature passed a generic online truth in advertising law last year, but didn’t specifically call out Internet service or ISPs. Enforcement is up to California attorney general Xavier Becerra, who hasn’t done anything with it yet.

In practice, ISPs on this side of the Atlantic can advertise any speed they want, regardless of actual performance, so long as they qualify it with “up to” and back it with a long list of exceptions and conditions, buried somewhere on their websites.

Shouldn’t we expect the truth too?

California kicks bots off of social media

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You won’t be able to use an anonymous bot to tweet or boost Twitter profiles, or post items on Facebook in California, beginning next year. Or use a bot that pretends to be a person to try to sell something – including a candidate for office – on high traffic websites.

California governor Jerry Brown signed senate bill 1001 into law. Authored by senator Bob Hertzberg, it’s particularly intended to stop automated social media posts that inject comments – fake or otherwise – into political debates.

It only applies to websites that attract at least 10 million unique, U.S. visitors per month. There are a couple of hundred websites that meet that qualification, according to Quantcast.com. The list includes big, California-based platforms, like Google, Youtube, Facebook, Apple and Netflix. But as written, it also applies to out-of-state giants, like Amazon and the New York Times.

SB 1001 makes it…

Unlawful for any person to bot to communicate or interact with another person in California online, with the intent to mislead the other person about its artificial identity for the purpose of knowingly deceiving the person about the content of the communication in order to incentivize a purchase or sale of goods or services in a commercial transaction or to influence a vote in an election.

Using a bot would still be legal, so long as it’s identified as such and the disclosure is “clear, conspicuous, and reasonably designed to inform persons with whom the bot communicates or interacts that it is a bot”.

Online platforms, web hosts and Internet service providers won’t have to do any policing. SB 1001 specifically doesn’t apply to them.

A “bot” is defined as “an automated online account where all or substantially all of the actions or posts of that account are not the result of a person”. It doesn’t appear to apply to customer service bots that websites use to communicate with visitors, but there’s enough wiggle room that the courts will have to decide where to draw the line. That’ll be after the law survives the inevitable challenges on First Amendment and federal preemption grounds.

Move fast and build things, like broadband infrastructure

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The debate over California’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program continues. Another round of comments landed at the California Public Utilities Commission Friday, with ideas – some good, some not – for changing the way the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is run.

I drafted and submitted the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s (CCBC) contribution. There are many administrative, practical and, yes, political details to be worked out. Which is a large part of the problem with the program: the grant application and review process is complicated, time consuming and capricious. Improving it requires fewer details, more predictability and rapid decision making.

Time is the most precious commodity…

The CCBC has developed and assisted in the development of CASF-funded projects since 2009. It is an increasingly difficult challenge to recruit qualified infrastructure grant applicants. The delays, uncertainty and litigation involved in the review and approval process are the primary reasons qualified companies refuse to participate. Subsidy levels can be a consideration too, but other funds can often be identified to backfill project budgets when CASF eligibility is assured and schedules are short.

Money can be made. Time cannot.

The more complicated the process is and the more opportunities for incumbents to game the system, either by exploiting an overly intricate scoring system or by endless litigation of independent proposals, the less the likelihood is of meaningful service and infrastructure upgrades in deserving communities.

Since the California legislature voted to turn CASF into a piggy bank for big incumbents last year, the pipeline of independent broadband projects has run dry. Naturally, it has not stopped Frontier Communications from gaming the system to maximise the taxpayer dollars it rakes in, while minimising its service obligations.

In theory, the draft overhaul of the program should be complete by the end of the year, although it might take a month or two (or three…) for CPUC commissioners to come to a decision. In the meantime, the debate continues.

You can download Friday’s filings, and all (I think) the other documents from the CASF reboot here

CPUC leaves SCE’s fiber business intact, but the beatings will continue

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With barely a mention at its meeting, the California Public Utilities Commission closed the first chapter of a saga that should never have been written. By a unanimous vote, commissioners allowed Southern California Edison to withdraw its request for blanket approval of a dark fiber lease deal with Verizon.

SCE asked to pull the application because the deal was dead, the victim of a mauling by so called consumer advocates and a purblind proposed decision by CPUC commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen. Opponents objected, preferring instead that the commission press on and dismantle a revenue sharing deal, dating back two decades, that gave 10% of SCE’s fiber revenue to electric customers.

The fiber network was originally built to support its electric operations, but consistent with industry practice and common sense, SCE installed more fiber strands than it immediately needed – the cost of a cable with extra strands is diminishingly small. Construction accounts for almost all the expense.

Independent dark fiber is a valuable resource, particularly for competitive telecoms companies, and large corporate and institutional users, but also for incumbents like Verizon. It’s particularly precious in California, where most of the long haul fiber routes are controlled by old school, monopoly model telephone companies.

So SCE found a ready market for its 5,000 miles of fiber, threaded throughout the greater Los Angeles region. But success draws attention, in this case from groups that claim to speak for Californian consumers, but don’t seem to understand that those consumers need fast and, particularly, affordable broadband service, too. They convinced Rechtschaffen to propose taking half of SCE’s fiber revenue away, which would effectively kill the business. After paying operating costs – a fiber business does not run for free – SCE would have been either in the red or close enough to it that there would be little point to continuing.

After the case dragged on for more than a year, Verizon threw up its hands and cancelled the contract. SCE told the CPUC it was all moot, and on Thursday commissioners rejected opposing arguments and agreed. But the decision also contained a warning: the commission has electric company fiber in its crosshairs

The scope of the proceeding has raised broad policy issues that include identifying what policy frameworks promote the most effective utilization of ratepayer- funded dark fiber throughout California’s regulated electric utility infrastructure and assure safety, universal access to utility services, and non-discriminatory access to this infrastructure, especially amidst policy changes at the federal level. The Commission may consider opening a rulemaking to consider these and other broad policy issues and, in that broader context, reconsider the appropriate revenue sharing allocation for dark fiber route leases.

It’s not just about SCE. Apparently seeing the writing on the wall, PG&E also backed off a plan to become a fully certified telecoms company. Dark fiber sales is a minor sideline for both companies. Adding hugely disproportionate regulatory overhead will do nothing for electric rates and only serve to reduce competition and increase broadband prices for all consumers.

FCC thinks its broadband standard is fast enough. What do you think?

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The Federal Communications Commission is beginning its annual exercise to determine if Internet service in the U.S. is adequate, and it wants to know what you think of last year’s conclusion that 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds are “advanced” enough is good enough. Comments are due 17 September 2018. The FCC’s republican majority thinks so

The 2018 Report found that the current speed benchmark of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps was the appropriate measure to assess whether fixed services provides advanced telecommunications capability. The Commission concluded that fixed services meeting this speed benchmark satisfy the statutory requirement to “enable users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics and video telecommunications.” We propose to maintain the 25 Mbps/3 Mbps benchmark, and we seek comment on this proposal.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the only democrat on the commission at present, disagrees

This inquiry fundamentally errs by proposing to keep our national broadband standard at 25 Megabits per second. I believe this goal is insufficiently audacious. It is time to be bold and move the national broadband standard from 25 Megabits to 100 Megabits per second. When you factor in price, at this speed the United States is not even close to leading the world

Rosenworcel is correct. With video going over the top and migrating to 4k, a download speed of 25 Mbps won’t keep an entire household online. An upload speed of 3 Mbps isn’t enough for any business that deals in digital services or products.

On the other hand, a 25/3 standard seems pretty rich by Californian standards. Bowing deeply before bags of cash lobbyists from AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast, Charter Communications and other incumbents, lawmakers lowered California’s minimum acceptable broadband speed to 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up last year.

Broadband speed standards should be determined by how people actually use, and want to use, the Internet. Not by politics or cash payments to politicians.

California can offer a cure for midwest derangement syndrome

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Monterey County’s former U.S. congressman, Sam Farr, used to call it “midwest derangement syndrome”. That’s the condition that seems to afflict federal agriculture department subsidy programs, including broadband development grants and loans.

It’s real. The agriculture department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) has a long track record of favoring small states with lots of small farms in small counties. In other words, the sort of rural communities that predominate in the midwestern and southern U.S.

California has places where you can find traditional family farms with traditional farm families in residence. But more commonly, you’ll find three other kinds of rural: exurban bedroom and, effectively, retirement communities, traditional western rural economies built around ranching, mining, timber or tourism, and small (by Californian standards) cities in the midst of large corporate croplands. Residents of towns like Gonzales and Hilmar don’t live on farms. They commute.

A big federal budget bill passed earlier this year set aside $600 million for “a new broadband loan and grant pilot program”. It’s up to RUS to figure out what that means, and they’re asking for advice

Eligible rural areas are defined as having at least 90 percent of the households without sufficient access to broadband, defined in the law as 10 Mbps downstream, and 1 Mbps upstream. At present, RUS is working to determine what types of technologies and services are defined as ‘‘sufficient access.’’ In particular, RUS is seeking information about the transmission capacity required for economic development, and speed and latency, especially in peak usage hours, to ensure rural premises have access to coverage similar to that offered in urban areas. Comments are specifically requested on whether affordability of service should be included in evaluating whether an area already has ‘‘sufficient access’’ and how to benchmark affordability of internet services. And if so, what equates to consumers’ costs being so high that they are effectively rendered inaccessible to rural households?

It’s a very good question. If broadband costs too much or is delivered, say, via flakey wireless systems, are the needs of rural communities being met?

This is also an opportunity to make the case for California’s kind of rural. Comments are due 10 September 2018.

California WISPs win $149 million in FCC broadband subsidy auction

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Internet service providers – most, if not all, wireless – will get $149 million in federal subsidies to serve 52,000 homes and businesses in California over the next 10 years. The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund (CAF 2) auction ended this week. Bidders competed for money to provide broadband service in census blocks bypassed by the main CAF 2 subsidy round in 2015.

Although California didn’t proportionately have as many census blocks and locations on the table as some other states, it came out very well in the bidding, gaining 10% of the total money on offer. The FCC hasn’t released the list of census blocks auctioned off though – all we know so far is the name of the companies, the total dollar amount and the total number of subsidised locations, plus the range of technology and service levels options that the companies might have offered.

Three of the companies are wireless Internet service providers – Cal.net, Geolinks and Hankins Information Technology – and a fourth, Viasat, is a satellite broadband company. Frontier Communications also grabbed a little cash for a couple dozen locations, but it’s not clear what type of technology they’ll be using. They told the FCC that one of their options in California is to deliver Internet service via fixed wireless facilities, but exact details haven’t been posted yet.

Cal.net’s service area centers on Mother Lode counties, and Geolinks is based on the central coast. But that doesn’t mean that’s where the money is going – they could have submitted bids anywhere in California. Hankin is a relatively new and unknown company based in southern Santa Clara County.

Subsidised service levels haven’t been published, either. All three WISPs included “baseline” service – 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds – as an option. Cal.net also listed “minimum” – 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up – and “above baseline” – 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up – as possibilities, and Geolinks put “above baseline” on its list too. Frontier filed in all four categories, including “gigabit” – 1 Gbps down/500 Mbps up. Viasat only ticked the “baseline” category, albeit with high latency.

The scorecard reads…

Cal.net, $51 million for 21,000 locations.
Geolinks (aka California Internet), $83 million for 11,000 locations.
Hankins Information Technology, $2 million for 1,000 locations.
Frontier Communications, $52,000 for 23 locations.
Viasat, $14 million for 19,000 locations.

No consensus on public property lease rates, but FCC committee moves ahead anyway

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Telecoms companies and local government representatives didn’t agree on how lease rates for assets such as street light poles should be set, but at least they were able to articulately lay out their positions and identify what they do agree on. The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband deployment advisory committee received a draft report last month that looked at how fees and rental rates are set. It was produced by a sub committee that had two members from local agencies, plus a municipal lobbyist and a state government representative. The other fifteen committee members are mostly lobbyists for telecoms companies.

The group agreed that one-time charges, such as permit application fees, should be based on costs, but there was no consensus on how lease rates for public property should be set. Industry lobbyists think those should be set on a strict cost basis, arguing that public assets “are intended for use for the public good”, which they equate with expansion of their networks.

Local government representatives prefer a fair market value approach because, among reasons…

It is unfair to prioritize one industry (wireless industry) over all others in pricing the public rights-of-way and public infrastructure access. Equal pricing of private access to public assets is especially a concern where there is no obligation for providers to serve all residents (which is required of other users of the rights-of- way who may pay market-based fees).

On the whole, the report is an even handed document that focuses on principles both sides accept, and outlines the remaining differences.

A model state law, developed by another sub committee, is, to say the least, not as well balanced. The State Model Code for Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure Deployment and Investment proposes to make all publicly owned assets that have some relevance to telecoms – including dark fiber – available on demand and on a narrowly defined cost basis. The full committee, which has been sharply criticised for its industry-heavy membership, adopted that recommendation.

One foot of sea level rise puts thousands of miles of fiber underwater

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Climate change poses a significant threat to telecommunications infrastructure. That’s the conclusion of a recently published paper by three researchers from the University of Oregon and the University of Wisconsin.

The authors took standard electronic map data – i.e. geographical information system/GIS files – showimg major fiber routes and overlayed it with coastal flooding predictions made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The data shows thousands of miles of long haul fiber at risk…

The results of our analysis show that climate change-related sea level incursions could have a devastating impact on Internet communication infrastructure even in the relatively short term. In particular, we find that 1,186 miles of long-haul fiber conduit and 2,429 miles of metro fiber conduit will be underwater in the next 15 years. Similarly, we find that 1,101 termination points will be surrounded by sea water in the next 15 years. Given the fact that most fiber conduit is underground, we expect the effects of sea level rise could be felt well before the 15 year horizon. Interestingly, we find that the risks over longer time scales do not increase significantly. Specifically, there is only a modest increase in the amount of additional Internet infrastructure that will be under water at the 6 ft. rise level (the 100 year projection) vs. the 1 ft. rise level (the 15 year prediction)…

Our results show that communication infrastructure in New York, Miami, and Seattle, respectively, are at highest risk. We also quantify the impact to individual service providers and find that CenturyLink, Intelliquent (formerly Tinet), and AT&T are at highest risk.

California also faces significant risk, according the authors. They list San Francisco, Palo Alto and Los Angeles in the top five of several risk categories, primarily because of the high concentration of telecoms assets.

It appears that the authors assumed that the fiber routes in their database are all underground. Some of that infrastructure is likely strung on utility pole routes, but the principle is pretty much the same: coastal flooding can disrupt fiber infrastructure, and it doesn’t matter much if it’s entire routes or just chunks.

The danger might not be as imminent as the authors assume – a one foot sea level rise in the next 15 years is a pretty aggressive forecast. Even so, it’s a factor that needs to be considered in planning new fiber construction, for redundancy as much as for additional capacity, and in maintenance budgets for existing routes.

Performance, not weasel words, should drive California broadband subsidies

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The reboot of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) broadband infrastructure subsidy program continues, with a new round of comments and suggestions landing at the California Public Utilities Commission.

I drafted the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s filing. One issue that the CPUC should consider very carefully is what qualifies as a bona fide service offer.

When the California legislature allowed lobbyists for AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast and Charter Communications to rewrite the law and turn CASF into their own, private piggy bank, the minimum broadband standard was lowered to 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. If an incumbent “offers” such service, then the area in question isn’t eligible for an infrastructure grant.

The point we made is that…

In order for such an offer to be valid, an incumbent provider must be capable of actually delivering service at 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds (hereinafter, “6/1 service”) consistently to any household that subscribes to it. Although it is common industry practice to advertise service at a certain level and then condition it with a long and difficult to parse list of exceptions, there are no such exceptions in the statute. An incumbent is either capable of delivering 6/1 service to every household that subscribes to at least that level of service at all times, or it is not. If an incumbent is not capable of fulfilling an offer of 6/1 service, or better, at all times in any given census block or to any given household, then that census block or household is unserved.

An offer that can’t be fulfilled is not a offer at all. Incumbents should not be allowed to block independent projects on the basis of marketing claims or service that meets the minimum standard only some of the time. The 6/1 standard is ridiculously low to begin with. The least the CPUC can do is require incumbents to actually meet it.