Tag Archives: casf

CPUC asks for more time to adapt to FCC broadband subsidy program, but doesn’t say how

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Paicines pole route

The FCC is heading toward a vote on Thursday that would raise its eligibility and minimum service standards for broadband subsidies to 25 down/3 Mbps up and award $20 billion in broadband subsidies as quickly as possible, perhaps in a single reverse auction in November. That’s welcome progress and a great thing for states that either have rational broadband policies or have no interest in broadband policy at all.

But not so great for California, which has irrational broadband subsidy policies.

Higher speed standards and a rapid timeline mean the opportunities for projects that combine money from its new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) with California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) subsidies are minimal.

In a letter to the FCC last week, CPUC president Marybel Batjer asked the FCC to move more slowly, or at least be more flexible…

Over the past month, CPUC staff have had ex parte meetings with FCC staff and commissioners’ offices to explore the possibility of a federal-state partnership in the planned [RDOF] reverse auction. Based on new information gathered during those meetings, it appears unlikely California would have sufficient time to make necessary changes to existing statutes and program rules to achieve this goal.

Batjer didn’t suggest, let alone commit to, asking the California legislature to raise the abysmally slow CASF speed standards. Instead, she asks for “a set-aside or partnership”, similar to “special privileges afforded to New York and Alaska”. A separate FCC filing made by CPUC staff suggests delaying the RDOF auction until the middle of 2021.

CASF is California’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program. It does not match up well with FCC or federal agriculture department programs. The biggest roadblock is the 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speed minimum that California lawmakers set in 2017 when they accepted large payments self-serving arguments from AT&T, Comcast and other monopoly model incumbents, and lowered California’s broadband subsidy eligibility standard (and set the minimum acceptable service level for subsidised infrastructure at 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up).

Frontier will walk the same bankruptcy path as PG&E, Bloomberg says

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The end is near for Frontier Communications, as we know it. According to a story in Bloomberg by Allison McNeely, Katherine Doherty and Sridhar Natarajan, California’s second biggest telephone company will file for bankruptcy in March. Frontier is carrying $17.5 billion in debt – its purchase of Verizon’s Californian wireline systems accounts for a significant chunk of that – and continues to lose broadband subscribers.

Despite being initially considered a saviour for rural Californians held hostage by Verizon’s decrepit copper phone lines – many communities lacked even slow 1990s DSL service – Frontier has proven to be unable to improve broadband service, outside of its affluent urban territories. It fumbled its cutover of Verizon customers, and now faces an investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission as a result. It’s enthusiastically tapped the piggybank that California lawmakers created when they gutted the California Advanced Services Fund program, but has mostly used the money to patch up legacy DSL systems at cost levels more commonly associated with full fiber upgrades.

California is not the only place where Frontier is performing poorly, according to a story in Ars Technica by Jon Brodkin…

Frontier Communications failed to properly maintain its telecom network in Minnesota, leading to “frequent and lengthy” phone and Internet outages, an investigation by the state Commerce Department found in January 2019. The investigation led to a settlement. New York state officials are also investigating Frontier over its repeated outages and long repair times.

Many Frontier customers in different states have been hit with giant overcharges and cancellation fees, or draconian policies like one requiring customers to pay for router rentals even when they have purchased their own router. (A new US law scheduled to take effect in June 2020 would ban that practice.)

The Bloomberg article indicated that Frontier would be filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which allows it to continue operating while it sorts out its finances. It’s the same procedure PG&E is using.

Newsom’s broadband budget language doesn’t translate to infrastructure

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San benito pole route 13apr2019

Broadband references are sprinkled into California governor Gavin Newsom’s state budget proposal but, taken at face value, he’s focused on shifting money from hard capital infrastructure projects to soft programs and annual operating budgets.

Although tagged as an infrastructure investment in Newsom’s budget summary, his “Broadband for All” initiative is about operations, comprising four elements: mapping, education spending, “optimising” existing resources and “prioritising connectivity across executive actions and policies”.

The California Public Utilities Commission already has a fine mapping program, which Newsom wisely intends to expand. It’s the brightest broadband item in his budget. If the CPUC is allowed to combine availability data with comprehensive network maps, inventories of state owned facilities and construction cost data, and make it public, then independent broadband infrastructure projects become more feasible.

Feasible, but not funded.

Consistent with past practice, Newsom proposes to spend $261 million on broadband facilities and information technology acquisitions for schools over the next five years, which is praiseworthy (as are many other items in the $153 billion budget) but has rarely improved broadband infrastructure that’s directly available to consumers and businesses. Keeping broadband top of mind in state government is likewise a good thing, and when agencies look outward and cooperate with private sector telecoms companies – Caltrans’ dig once program is a good example – the general public benefits. More often, though, connectivity improvements are limited to meeting agencies’ internal IT needs. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

It’s Newsom’s third bullet point – “optimising use of existing resources” – that threatens to divert what little money California spends on general broadband infrastructure development to other purposes. As his budget summary explains…

Informed by GIS-based mapping, the state will review existing fund sources available for broadband adoption and activities. This review will include the California Teleconnect Fund, the California Advanced Services Fund [CASF], and federal funding opportunities to maximize the return on existing investments. In total, these funds provide approximately $900 million over the next five years that can be targeted to critical broadband activities statewide.

The California Teleconnect Fund subsidises broadband service for schools and other organisations. Federal broadband funds are speculative at best – so far, California is shut out of the federal agriculture department’s newest broadband infrastructure subsidy program.

What’s left is CASF. Which holds the only money – somewhere around $300 million – that California earmarks for general broadband infrastructure construction. Which isn’t specifically listed as one of California’s “critical broadband activities”.

Adoption – digital literacy and broadband subscriber acquisition programs – gets a mention. Schools are in for a lot of love. Libraries and state IT departments get a nod too. Broadband for businesses and consumers? Nada.

Schools and community programs are wildly popular; government operations are Sacramento’s core business. Subsides for independent broadband infrastructure are neither, and are opposed by monopoly model incumbents who pay lawmakers millions of dollars to pay attention. Newsom’s budget offers no challenge to that status quo.

California broadband subsidy program pumped $35 million into infrastructure in 2019

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Dig once conduit 1oct2019

The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), the state’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program, closes out 2019 with thirteen projects funded – $35 million in grants total – and no backlog of stale applications. That success is a welcome change from past practice, when project proposals sometimes languished for years. Changes made to the program by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2018 paid off, producing a consistent and predictable process.

Casf 2019 broadband infrastructure grants

Congratulations are due both CPUC staff who implemented the changes and managed the program, and to commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves who led the effort to rewrite the rules and procedures. It was tough job, given that lawmakers paid more attention to the checks they get from AT&T, Comcast and the like than to California’s broadband needs when they rigged the CASF program in favor of big, monopoly model providers.

Incumbents’ cash still mattered, and not in a good way. Frontier Communications came away with the most CASF money and will do the least with it. Three grants totalling $12.0 million were approved for DSL upgrades in Kern, Lassen, Modoc and Placer counties. Frontier only committed to offer slow service at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, despite the subsidies. It had four projects on the table this year, and requested $16.1 million. One, in Colusa County, was rejected because Frontier (and Comcast) already provided service in the proposed area. Subsidies for other projects were trimmed, partly for the same reason and partly because Frontier tried to double dip and get state and federal funding for the same homes.

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op received $9.7 million for five projects in Plumas and Lassen counties, which was $2.2 million less than it originally requested. Nearly all of the 414 funded homes will get full fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) service. A handful of remote residences will be served from that fiber infrastructure by wireless extensions.

Two companies received CASF grants for mobile home parks. Cruzio, an independent Internet service provider based in Santa Cruz, won $2.4 million to serve seven parks in Santa Cruz County with gigabit class FTTP service. It initially requested $5.3 million to build out to 13 parks, but challenges from Comcast and Charter Communications (and a snarky letter from AT&T), and review by CPUC staff, eliminated six of them.

Charter also received money to extend its hybrid fiber-coax plant to two mobile home parks, in Ventura and Riverside counties, as well as a neighborhood in San Bernardino County. It asked for $1.7 million and got $1.4 million. Most of the difference is due to the rejection of a fourth application in Riverside County, following a challenge from Frontier.

A half-assed $5.1 million request from a Sonoma County wireless operator didn’t make it through the process either.

The CPUC approved an additional $9.1 million for Race Communications’ Gigafy Phelan project. The extra money is necessary because utility pole inspection practices are increasingly rigorous and California labor costs, particularly for fiber optic work, are up. Relative to other CASF-funded builds, Gigafy Phelan is a mega-project. It’ll bring full FTTP facilities with gigabit service at DSL prices to 7,600 homes in San Bernardino County. Because Gigaphy Phelan was originally approved under the old rules, CASF is only paying for 60% of the project’s costs. Race has to contribute $24.5 million in matching funds.

There’s only one CASF request still active. The Karuk Tribe is asking for an increase of $11.3 million for its long-stalled project to bring Internet service to communities in and near its lands in Humboldt County. The initial request was made in May, but middle mile connectivity problems remained to be solved. The (probably) final proposal (see map below) was submitted earlier this month.

Karuk map casf krrbi 10dec2019

Links to 2019 CASF project applications, challenges and approvals are here.

Another $13 million approved by CPUC for California broadband infrastructure subsidies

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Frontier Communications won’t be able to double dip on California and federal broadband subsidies, and Charter Communications won’t have to follow rules that tie price commitments to infrastructure subsidies. Yesterday, the California Public Utilities Commission made those decisions as it approved California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grants totalling $12.7 million for five projects, two by Frontier and three by Charter.

Add in the six CASF grants approved two weeks ago and one approved in September, and you get a 2019 CASF subsidy total of $25.5 million.

Frontier is getting $11.3 million to upgrade DSL-based service for 381 homes in Lassen, Modoc and Kern counties, and to build a middle mile link from Alturas, in Modoc County, to Standish, in Lassen County. As with its past CASF grants, Frontier is only promising to deliver slow broadband service at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds.

In May, Frontier applied for $13.5 million for the two projects. The CPUC chopped out $2.2 million because the Federal Communications Commission is already paying Frontier, through the Connect America Fund program (CAF II), to serve some of the homes included in its original CASF proposal. According to the resolution approving the Lassen/Mono project…

Frontier accepted $473,487.74 in CAF II grant funding to provide broadband access to 187 unserved households in the project area. This represents a $2,532.02 per household subsidy provided by the CAF II program and any remaining costs to connect CAF II households should be paid with Frontier’s own private capital, as Frontier has stated in its comments to this resolution. Based on the last-mile funding determination, Frontier is responsible to fund $936,239.91 of the $1,409,727.65 project costs to build to CAF II locations.

A similar calculation was made for the Kern County project.

Charter, on the other hand, got almost everything it wanted. The three projects approved yesterday are in Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The $1.4 million award is only $49,000 less than requested and, crucially, the CPUC waived service price guarantees and installation fee waivers that normally come along with CASF subsidies. The dubious rationale was that 1. Charter’s billing system isn’t set up to handle exceptions for such small areas – a total of 279 homes are involved – and 2. it was nice of Charter to even ask for the money. It’s the first time that a major cable company participated in the CASF program, which is reckoned to be a significant milestone.

Both companies have two to three years to finish construction. Charter’s projects are minor extension to existing hybrid fiber-coax systems and can be done quickly. Frontier’s Kern County build isn’t much more complicated, but it’s Modoc/Lassen project is complex. The real question is whether it’ll be able to survive as a company with its current capital and ownership structure intact.

CASF broadband infrastructure grant resolutions approved 19 December 2019:
Charter Communications – Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates , Silver Wheel
Frontier Communications – Northeast Project: Phase1
Frontier Communications – Taft Cluster

CPUC approves $12 million subsidy for six broadband infrastructure projects

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Six of the eleven broadband infrastructure projects on the California Public Utilities Commission’s agenda yesterday were approved for subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). The other five were bumped to the CPUC’s next meeting, on 19 December 2019. Links to the most current resolutions are below.

Cruzio’s Equal Access Santa Cruz project was approved, without changes, for a $2.4 million grant. The commission rejected an attempt by Charter Communications to re-litigate its earlier and unsuccessful attempt to kill it. In doing so, commissioners reiterated that incumbent broadband service providers get one, and only one, opportunity to block proposed projects…

Staff also agrees with [the Central Coast Broadband Consortium] and rejects Charter’s request to remove a census block from the project area because Staff has already made a determination on the challenge. [CPUC Decision 18–12–018] set forth a clear process for challenges and Staff‘s determination of the challenge stands.

All five of the projects proposed by the Plumas Sierra Electric Cooperative (PSEC), totalling $9.7 million in grants, were approved too. The commission accepted PSEC’s field test data that demonstrated the lack of mobile broadband service in its Lake Davis project area.

Two projects proposed by Frontier Communications and three by Charter Communications are on hold. Both companies filed comments asking for more money than recommended by CPUC staff. As with the Cruzio project, Charter attempted to re-litigate its opposition to Frontier’s project plans in the Taft area of Kern County. It also objected to pricing obligations that CASF rules would normally impose on the projects that it proposed. It’s not surprising that it’s taking a couple extra weeks to get to a decision on those five projects.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium assisted Cruzio with its Equal Access Santa Cruz grant application, and I was a part of that effort. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

CASF broadband infrastructure grant resolutions, as approved 5 December 2019:
Cruzio – Equal Access Santa Cruz
Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Lake Davis Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Eureka Mid-Mile/Last Mile

CASF broadband infrastructure grant resolutions bumped to 19 December 2019:
Charter Communications – Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates , Silver Wheel
Frontier Communications – Northeast Project: Phase1
Frontier Communications – Taft Cluster

All documents collected in 2019 regarding the CASF program and projects are here.

Mobile data tests count more than maps, as CPUC votes on broadband subsidies for northeastern California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Plumas eureka

A sharp-eyed reader of this humble blog spotted a gap in my collection of comments on the draft resolutions up for a vote tomorrow. H/T to David Espinoza, the manager of the Upstate and Northeast California broadband consortia, who sent me Plumas-Sierra Electric Co-op’s (PSEC) response to both the draft resolutions for its five proposed projects in Plumas and Lassen counties and the objections raised by the CPUC’s public advocates office. Links are below.

Short version: mobile broadband tests showing zero coverage trumped map models; PSEC added a low-income service plan and CPUC staff recommended extra funding as a result.

The big issue is whether or not one of PSEC’s projects – a proposal to serve 125 homes in the Lake Davis area of Plumas County – is located in an area that has no broadband service at all, other than satellite or dial-up. According to the CPUC’s published map, mobile broadband service is available there, so the project was deemed ineligible for bonus money. In its comments, PSEC provided test data that shows zero broadband availability from any of the four major mobile carriers. The discrepancy might be due to the time of year the CPUC took measurements. As PSEC pointed out

Foliage and tree canopy attenuates radio waves, causing signal degradation, particularly in rural forested areas; especially in fall and winter seasons. Topography also impacts mobile coverage. This Project is in rough terrain with dense tree coverage, resulting in less than adequate mobile coverage.

Based on the Broadband Map, the latest mobile coverage testing was carried out in 2017. It is likely that mobile testing was carried out by CPUC when weather was benign. However, deep in fall and winter seasons actual coverage and speed levels can be significantly less due to weather precipitations and winds.

CPUC staff accepted PSEC’s test data, and the draft resolution was revised, with the extra funding for completely unserved areas added back in.

The PAO objected to the price of PSEC’s proposed plan for low income residents, which also resulted in a lower subsidy amount. PSEC’s answer was to say okay, $15 a month it is. The subsidy bonus that goes along with low income service offerings was added back into the draft resolution.

I’m not a disinterested commentator, so take it for what it’s worth. I provided very minor assistance to Dr. Espinoza, who did the heavy lifting on the response to the original draft Lake Davis resolution. Congratulations to him and the team at PSEC on well-played applications for five needed projects.

Revised draft resolutions, 4 December 2019:
Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Lake Davis Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Eureka Mid-Mile/Last Mile

Comments
Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Plumas Sierra – Lake Davis Mid-Mile/Last Mile, 20 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Eureka Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 21 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 22 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – reply comments on the Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 27 November 2019

Plumas Sierra Electric Co-op – reply comments on the Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 27 November 2019

All documents collected in 2019 regarding the CASF program and projects are here.

California broadband subsidies set for CPUC vote, as Charter attempts last minute hit (but not on its own grants)

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

As of last night, all 11 broadband infrastructure projects tentatively approved for subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) are slated for a final vote by the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday. Arguments for and against the projects and grant conditions as drafted have also been filed. Links to (I think) all of the comments are below.

Frontier Communications made pitches for full funding of their projects as proposed, which were seconded by the California Emerging Technology Fund. Charter Communications made a similar plea, then went on to complain about two other projects – Frontier’s proposal for the Taft area of Kern County and Cruzio’s application for money to extend fiber to the premise service to several low income mobile home communities in Santa Cruz County.

Last June, Charter filed objections to both projects, claiming it already offered broadband service to the specific areas of the communities for which Cruzio and Frontier sought CASF subsidies. CPUC staff upheld some of Charter’s challenges and denied others. The new CASF rules adopted by the commission last year established a quick and transparent process for reviewing objections made by incumbents, which fixed a serious flaw in the CASF program – incumbents were allowed to endlessly challenge proposed projects that threatened their monopoly business models, right up to the eve of a commission vote.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium responded to Charter’s intransigence (full disclosure: I drafted and submitted those comments) by pointing out that allowing perpetual litigation would lead to failure…

Applicants must spend time and money, often amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, to prepare and process CASF infrastructure grant proposals. When faced with this significant expense, applicants must weigh it against the probability of success. Previously, the unlimited challenge opportunities afforded incumbent service providers acted as a significant barrier to independent project development. The experience of project applicants who hazarded this process convinced some to never attempt it again. After witnessing these travails, other independent service providers refused to participate in the program.

[The CPUC’s reboot of the CASF program] was wisely crafted to prevent de facto discrimination against independent service providers because their participation in the CASF program is essential to achievement of the program’s goals. Contravening [this decision] by allowing Charter to re-litigate its opposition to the Equal Access Santa Cruz project would, in turn, contravene the Commission’s responsibility to achieve those goals, as required by [California law].

We submitted largely identical comments regarding Frontier’s Taft project.

The CPUC’s public advocates office also weighed in, particularly concerning whether companies receiving grants should be required to offer low income customers affordable broadband rates and whether rules regarding price commitments for all subscribers should be followed – they’re in favor of both.

The next step is for staff to consider all the comments and replies, and make any changes to the proposed grants that seem necessary. The revised draft resolutions should be posted in the next couple of days, although it’s also possible that the commission’s vote could be bumped to a later meeting.

Charter Communications comments on the Charter Communications Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates, Silver Wheel projects, 21 November 2019
Public Advocates Office – comments on the Charter Communications Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates , Silver Wheel projects, 21 November 2019
Charter Communications – reply comments on the Charter Communications Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates, Silver Wheel projects, 26 November 2019

Charter Communications – comments on the Cruzio Equal Access Santa Cruz project, 25 November 2019
Central Coast Broadband Consortium – comments on the Cruzio Equal Access Santa Cruz project, 25 November 2019
Central Coast Broadband Consortium – reply comments on the Cruzio Equal Access Santa Cruz, project 2 December 2019

Charter Communications – comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 25 November 2019
Frontier Communications – comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 25 November 2019
California Emerging Technology Fund – comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 25 November 2019
Central Coast Broadband Consortium – reply comments on the Frontier Communications Taft Cluster project, 2 December 2019

Frontier Communications – comments on the Frontier Communications Northeast Project: Phase1 project, 21 November 2019
California Emerging Technology Fund – comments on the Frontier Communications Northeast Project: Phase1, project, 21 November 2019

Public Advocates Office – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 25 November 2019
Public Advocates Office – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 25 November 2019
Public Advocates Office – comments on the Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile project, 20 November 2019

All documents collected in 2019 regarding the CASF program and projects are here.

Frontier digs a deeper digital divide in rural California with taxpayers’ shovel

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Frontier verizon pole santa barbara county 10oct2015

A handful of rural communities in Lassen, Modoc and Kern counties will get their first taste of wireline broadband service from Frontier Communications if the California Public Utilities Commission approves infrastructure construction grants next month.

Unfortunately, it’s just a taste.

Frontier’s (and AT&T’s) strategy, as identified by a CPUC study earlier this year, of “disinvesting in infrastructure overall”, which is “most pronounced in the more rural and low-income service areas”, continues to be business as usual. Both of Frontier’s projects up for California Advanced Services Fund grants propose to deliver low speed service over ageing copper telephone lines. The $11 million would be spend on a desperately needed 137 mile fiber route and essential central office equipment upgrades, but Frontier’s interest in improving rural infrastructure, even when taxpayers are picking up the tab, ends there. As the CPUC’s draft resolution approving the Kern County grant describes the project, “Frontier will upgrade the existing communications facilities to increase broadband capacity but will not replace the copper cable infrastructure”. Likewise, the northeastern California project adds middle fiber and electronic equipment, but leaves “legacy copper infrastructure” in place.

It’s not an accident or anomaly. It’s deliberate.

Frontier continues to bleed customers and revenue, and selective fiber upgrades are the solution, according to CEO Dan McCarthy, who spoke about the company’s third quarter 2019 financial results

We achieved a sequential improvement in fiber net losses with only 1,000 in the third quarter. However, consumer copper losses of 52,000 were worse than the second quarter. In copper, although we experienced a sequential increase in gross additions, this was offset by a sequential increase in churn and we continue to manage this business for a decline. Fiber broadband gross additions increased sequentially in the third quarter and we also had a slight sequential improvement in fiber broadband churn. With the completion of the upgrades of the fiber network to be 10 gigabit capable, we have increased our emphasis on selling at higher speed tiers.

Frontier’s strategy is economically rational, and is probably its best shot at pulling shareholder value out of penny stock territory. What makes it rational, though, is the California legislature’s irrational (but well compensated) decision to subsidise 1990s era broadband service over 1890s era copper wires, and not hold incumbent telcos to the same standards in rural communities as they voluntarily and rationally adopt in densely populated, high income cities and suburbs.

CPUC queues up $24 million subsidy for 11 California broadband projects

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Mobile home park

Eleven broadband infrastructure projects by four companies will be considered by the California Public Utilities Commission next month. Draft resolutions approving California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) subsidies for 11 out of the 13 grant proposals submitted in the May application window were posted on Thursday. The drafts are linked below.

Making the CPUC’s new six month deadline for processing applications is a major milestone for staff, and they deserve congratulations. In the past, reviews have sometimes dragged on for years, with endless and often meritless challenges allowed from marginal broadband providers who wanted to fence off service-poor communities. There was mischief this time around – Digital Path, a wireless ISP, tried to claim a vast swath of northeastern California for example – but challenges were rigorously vetted.

The 11 grants total $23.8 million. The projects would extend broadband service to 1,219 homes, for an average subsidy of $19,500 each. There’s wide variance within that average, though, largely due to where those homes are.

Casf grant totals draft resolution 31oct2019

Frontier Communications is up for $11.1 million, which would pay for VDSL upgrades for the 263 homes in Modoc and Lassen counties in northeastern California and the Taft area in Kern County. According to Frontier, the technology is capable of delivering broadband speeds of up to 115 Mbps download and 7 Mbps upload, but the company is only promising to provide the CASF program’s absolute minimum of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up.

Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Co-op is in line for five grants in Plumas and Lassen counties, totalling $8.9 million. Most of the 414 homes will receive direct fiber-to-the-premise service at a minimum of 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up, although the system will be able to deliver symmetrical gigabit service. One of the projects, in Lake Davis in Plumas County, is a combo fiber and wireless build, with about half the homes receiving fixed wireless broadband service at the minimum of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up.

Cruzio, an independent Internet service provider based in Santa Cruz, has one grant for $2.4 million on the table. It targets 263 homes in seven mobile home parks in Santa Cruz County. It’s a full fiber-to-the-premise project, with symmetrical, 1 Gbps down and up promised.

Charter Communications has three grants totalling $1.4 million pending. The projects would extend its hybrid fiber coax plant to two mobile home parks in Riverside and Ventura counties and a neighborhood in Highland in San Bernardino County. The company promises to provide a minimum of 940 Mbps down/35 Mbps up speeds to a total of 279 homes. The draft resolution would also give Charter a pass on the CASF program requirement that monthly subscription prices, for at least some of a grant recipient’s broadband service tiers, be guaranteed for at least two years. A second exception requested by Charter – that it be allowed to charge for equipment and installation – was denied.

The $23.8 million total is $8.3 million less than originally requested for the 11 projects. Most were scaled back, for a variety of reasons including challenges from existing providers, overlaps with federally subsidised areas and due diligence verifications by CPUC staff. Two grant applications – one by Charter in Riverside County and another by Web Perceptions, a local wireless ISP in Sonoma County – are missing from Thursday’s batch. Charter’s proposed project in Perris in Riverside County was challenged by Frontier (and Charter returned the favor for Frontier’s Taft project, albeit only with partial success). Web Perceptions’ application wasn’t challenged but, judging by the publicly available information, it was poorly prepared. It’s a fair assumption that both were denied, but there’s no official word.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium assisted Cruzio with its Equal Access Santa Cruz grant application, and I happily participated in that effort. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Charter Communications – Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates , Silver Wheel
Cruzio – Equal Access Santa Cruz
Frontier Communications – Northeast Project: Phase1
Frontier Communications – Taft Cluster
Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Lake Davis Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Eureka Mid-Mile/Last Mile