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
Ken Biba, from Novarum Inc., briefed California Broadband Council members yesterday on the results of mobile broadband testing conducted by the California Public Utilities Commission. He reiterated conclusions previously published regarding the mobile broadband divide between rural and urban areas in California.
“It’s a one carrier state and it’s Verizon”, Biba said. Although AT&T has built out into rural areas, too, its service isn’t as available or well performing. As for the rest, “I can’t advise anyone to get a Sprint phone or a T-Mobile phone because you’re not going to get service”, he said.
There’s a wide variation in service, ranging from the best measurements on Verizon’s network along the Mexican border, to great gaping holes in the Sierra and along the northern coast. Where you are and who your carrier is determines the quality of your mobile broadband service, as does the device you’re using and the websites you’re frequenting. But as for the commonly heard claim that time of day determines mobile broadband performance, “it’s largely bullshit”, Biba said.
The data also points to the need for more fiber – and more access to existing fiber – particularly in rural areas. Once a mobile broadband connection hits a rural tower, it slows down. “There’s a 40% latency penalty for rural users over urban users”, Biba said, emphasising that this finding was preliminary and more research would be done to confirm (or rebut) it. Even so, “I think it’s real”.
In what was effectively a lame duck session, the council also heard telecoms regulators from New York and the Virgin Islands talk about the challenges they face, and closed out the session by thanking everyone, and particularly CPUC staff, for past years of support. Neither Alex Padilla nor Steven Bradford – outgoing state assembly and senate representatives respectively – attended. It’s also the last meeting for council chair – and CPUC president – Michael Peevey. Of the principal members (the others are staff representatives from various state agencies) only Sunne Wright McPeak, president of the California Emerging Technology Fund, will return next year. The council wrapped up the meeting by electing Carlos Ramos, head of the California Department of Technology and the state’s CIO, as the new chair, beginning in January.
As the final days of the current legislature term winds down in Sacramento, two departing lawmakers who play a key role in broadband development reflected on the the past few years. Assemblyman Steven Bradford and senator Alex Padilla (both D – Los Angeles) were participating as members of the California Broadband Council for the last time on Monday.
Bradford spoke particularly about two critical bills that he pushed and prodded through the legislature last year, despite occasionally nasty opposition from incumbents, particularly lobbyists for Comcast and the California cable industry. Assembly bill 1299, which directed California Advanced Services Fund money toward broadband facilities and marketing in public housing projects, was his baby. It was closely tied to senate bill 740, which added $90 million to CASF. As incumbent pressure mounted to kill or cripple the bill, Bradford successfully maneuvered both over the goal line.
Padilla added an historical perspective, talking about the emergence of broadband as a critical state policy concern ten years ago, and the development of CASF into a key source of money for broadband construction. The Digital 395 middle mile broadband project is a particularly good example of how CASF can get infrastructure built. CASF was “imperative as a policy venture to help create that backbone”, he said.
As chairmen of the assembly and senate committees that have primary responsibility for utilities, including telecommunications, Bradford and Padilla are automatically members of the council, as are CPUC president Michael Peevey, California Emerging Technology Fund CEO Sunne Wright McPeak and the heads of several state agencies, some of whom – Carlos Ramos, the state CIO and Mark Ghilarducci, the head of the state’s office of emergency services in particular – also took part.
Term limits mean that both Bradford and Padilla are leaving the legislature. Peevey’s term as CPUC president expires this year as well, and not many people are betting he’ll be reappointed. Of the four core leaders, only McPeak is certain to return. The council began life two years ago in a burst of energy that laid the foundation for the expansion of CASF, but the question now is whether new blood will reinvigorate it next year or if it will slide into a quiet and comfortable middle age.