Tag Archives: ccbc

Quick changes coming for California broadband subsidy fund to plug covid-19 gaps

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Forbes ag tech hartnell alisal demo 13jul2107

More money might soon be flowing from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to meet critical broadband service needs that have been given renewed attention because of the covid–19 emergency and the need for everyone to conduct business and educate kids, along with everything else that’s moved online. A request for ideas on how to make faster and better use of CASF in response to the emergency was sent out by the California Public Utilities Commission last month. Responses were filed on Thursday, and last night CPUC administrative law judge Brian Stevens sent out a notice saying that immediate changes to the program will be considered by commissioners. He didn’t say when, but it’s clear that there’s a sense of urgency and he didn’t foreclose the possibility that action will be taken on an emergency basis, without the usual public comment period that can last a month or more.

Links to all the filings are below.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium was one of several organisations that offered comments last week (full disclosure: I helped draft and submit them). We urged this kind of fast action, as well as suggesting that a mostly ignored pilot program for short broadband line extensions to low income households be turbocharged and used to pay for fast deployment of wireless service to those who need it most.

Several organisations focused on the digital literacy and broadband promotion – AKA “adoption” – programs funded by CASF, with suggestions for expanding their scope and generally pushing the money out to where it’s needed faster. Rural County Representatives of California, an association for California’s rural counties, and the CPUC’s public advocates office suggested using the available money to pay for mobile hotspots that can be quickly pushed out to students who can’t otherwise get online. That addresses lack of Internet access, which is the fundamental problem. Paying for laptops, as the Greenlining Institute recommends, is a wonderful thing, but not much help if people don’t have a connection at home and can’t leave the house to find one.

The cable industry’s Sacramento lobbying front – the California Cable and Telecommunications Association – doesn’t like the idea of subsiding service from mobile competitors. The California Emerging Technology Fund agrees, suggesting that adoption money be used, in effect, to pay commissions to non-profit organisations who sell discounted broadband subscriptions for monopoly-model cable and telephone companies.

A joint filing by California’s small rural telephone companies suggested keeping the window for infrastructure grant applications open beyond the current 4 May 2020 deadline, as did Pacific Lightwave. That’s a good idea. In our comments, the CCBC suggested opening a second window at the end of July, but not closing the current one is even better. AT&T wants infrastructure grant procedures to be streamlined – a good idea, and rules changed to make it a supplement to federal programs – a good idea for AT&T and Frontier Communications, who could scoop up the money; a bad idea for everyone else in California.

Comments on California Advanced Services Fund and covid–19 response, filed 9 April 2020:
Central Coast Broadband Consortium
Rural County Representatives of California
CPUC public advocates office
Electronic Freedom Foundation
Access Humboldt
Greenlining Institute

City and County of San Francisco
Sacramento Public Library
California Department of Education

Small LECs (small rural telcos)
Race Telecommunications
Pacific Lightwave
California Emerging Technology Fund
California Cable and Telecommunications Association

California’s mountain counties get failing broadband grades, urban areas top the report card

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

California broadband infrastructure report card map 24mar2020 625

The worst broadband infrastructure in California is, not surprisingly, found in mountain counties at the north end of the state. Trinity and Siskiyou counties both get “F” grades for broadband infrastructure, with a numerical score of dead zero. Sierra County likewise gets an “F”, with a numerical score of 0.03 that’s effectively zero. It is also the county with the highest percentage of population – 88% – without any access to wireline broadband service. It’s a serious problem for rural residents as business, education, health care and education move almost exclusively online during the covid–19 lockdown.

As the map above and the tables below show, the best broadband infrastructure in California can be found in San Francisco and Alameda County, and in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and it generally gets worse the farther you get from those two hubs.

The Worst

County             Broadband Report Card Grade GPA Percent of Population at Zero service
Trinity F 0.00 83%
Siskiyou F 0.00 17%
Humboldt F 0.01 15%
Mariposa F 0.01 24%
Modoc F 0.01 50%
Lassen F 0.02 56%
Sierra F 0.03 88%
Alpine F 0.04 83%
Plumas F 0.13 35%
Inyo F 0.17 16%

The Best

County             Broadband Report Card Grade GPA Percent of Population at Zero service
Alameda B- 2.77 3%
San Francisco B- 2.73 1%
San Mateo C+ 2.63 1%
Contra Costa C+ 2.40 1%
Sacramento C+ 2.30 2%
Santa Clara C+ 2.27 3%
Los Angeles C 2.09 1%
Orange C 1.97 3%
San Joaquin C- 1.89 5%
Stanislaus C- 1.88 4%

The grades are based on a methodology I first developed in 2013 for the East Bay Broadband Consortium, and have since been updating on a statewide basis for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and other such regional organisations. It uses the broadband speed and technology claims that Internet service providers submit to the California Public Utilities Commission and Federal Communications Commission every year – the most recent data set is current as of 31 December 2018. The underlying data are not very accurate, but it is precise in the sense that companies tend to be consistent about the way they exaggerate coverage. That makes it useful for comparative purposes, which is what the California Broadband Infrastructure Report Card is all about.

The best broadband infrastructure in California is found in the Bay Area and Sacramento, and the Los Angeles/Orange County core. Those two counties straddle California’s “C” average. The large share of the state’s population those counties represent means what’s available to people there is going to look a lot like what’s available to the average Californian.

San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties also made the top 10 due to upgrades by AT&T, which claims to have built fiber to the premise systems in about 16% of the census blocks (but not necessarily throughout whole census blocks) in those two counties, and Vast Network’s middle mile fiber infrastructure, which runs through a lot of census blocks but isn’t available to homes or most businesses. It’s similar story in Fresno County. The grades reflect infrastructure deployments rather than service availability, so for a lot of Central Valley communities it’s water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.

California Broadband Infrastructure Report Card, 24 March 2020
Central Coast Broadband Consortium wireline broadband availability analysis (22 March 2020 revision), per 31 December 2018 data
Central Coast Broadband Consortium Broadband Infrastructure Grading Methodology, 20 March 2020
Achieving Ubiquitous Broadband Coverage in the Monterey Bay Region, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, November 2018

California’s broadband gaps affect millions as corona virus lockdown continues

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San benito pole route 13apr2019

At least 1.5 million Californians – 4% of the state’s population – cannot get wireline broadband in their homes, as the second week of the corona virus lock down begins. That’s what the most recently published broadband availability reports filed with the California Public Utilities Commission show. Nearly twice that many – 2.8 million people, 8% of the population – don’t have access to primary wireline service that delivers 100 Mbps download/20 Mbps upload speeds, the minimum service level needed for in-home work, education, health care and entertainment. The dead spots are disproportionately found in rural communities.

That’s the top line result from the number crunching I’ve been doing, as part of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s (CCBC) efforts over the past few days. Like other regional broadband consortia around California, the CCBC is working to identify broadband access gaps and resources to fill them for the 40 million Californians ordered to stay at home. The raw data are the broadband service claims filed by primary wireline Internet service providers – the companies that own the copper and fiber – as of 31 December 2018, which is the most recent data set available. I ran the data for the 58 counties in California, with breakouts for cities, unincorporated communities (AKA census designated places) and tribal areas – it’s pretty much as easy to do it for all 58 counties as it is to do it for one (or the CCBC’s three – San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties).

The analysis includes:

  • Infrastructure grade (A, B, C, D, F). The grading methodology is here.
  • Median household income estimates.
  • Population, percentage of population, number of housing units and percentage of housing units, as of 2019 estimates, with zero access to wireline broadband service.
  • Population, percentage of population, number of housing units and percentage of housing units able to access primary wireline broadband service at 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload, 10 Mbps/1 Mbps, 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, 100 Mbps/20 Mbps, 1,000 Mbps/500 Mbps.

The data is not particularly accurate, as is widely acknowledged, but it is precise in the sense that the inaccuracies tend to be consistent across a provider’s data set. It is sufficiently precise for the purpose of comparing one place to another, and for generally assessing broadband availability in a given county, city or other area. I’ll be writing more about it in the coming days, and welcome any ideas or critiques.

Central Coast Broadband Consortium wireline broadband availability analysis (22 March 2020 revision), per 31 December 2018 data
Central Coast Broadband Consortium Broadband Infrastructure Grading Methodology, 20 March 2020
Achieving Ubiquitous Broadband Coverage in the Monterey Bay Region, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, November 2018

Urban or rural, the need for broadband speed is the same for all in the Monterey Bay region

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

MBEP regional broadband speed survey results

To run a business, do homework and enjoy the benefits of our digital economy, broadband service that runs at 100 Mbps download/20 Mbps upload speeds is a necessity for everyone. That’s the conclusion of a year-long study by the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) and the Central Coast Broadband Consortium.

The report was presented last Friday at MBEP’s 2018 State of the Region event in Seaside. It was based on the work of the broadband leadership team recommended by participants at the 2017 conference and recruited by MBEP earlier this year. The team conducted a survey of residents and businesses in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.

The key finding is that broadband needs are the same whether people live or work in a well-served urban area or a poorly – or even unserved – rural community.

The result was unexpected. The study’s underlying hypothesis was that the region’s diverse economy and communities would have an equally diverse range of broadband needs. As it turned out, there was little difference in the responses from high tech, agricultural or home-based business sectors, or from consumers anywhere.

In retrospect, the findings made perfect sense: a rancher in Bitterwater uses the same cloud-based business tools as a game developer in Santa Cruz, their families watch the same video programs, and their kids do the same homework and take the same online tests.

Federal and state broadband standards do not meet that need. Broadband subsidy programs run by the federal government set 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps speeds up as a minimum, although providers who deliver significantly slower service in rural areas can still receive funding. California’s primary broadband subsidy program, the California Advanced Services Fund, considers speeds as low as 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up to be sufficient for urban and rural communities alike.

Businesses and households in the Monterey Bay region are also willing to pay for better service…

When asked about ideal download and upload speeds, 63% of business respondents stated they would like to have 100 Mbps or higher download and 61% stated they would like to have 25 Mbps or higher upload. 69% of these businesses said they would be willing to pay $70 or more per month.

50% of respondents in the consumer survey stated that they would like to have download speeds of 100 Mbps or more. 66% of consumers said they were willing to pay $40 to $99 a month for their ideal speeds.

The MBEP survey data was backed up by a separate broadband needs survey run by the County of Santa Cruz and quarterbacked by broadband leadership team member Zach Friend, who is a Santa Cruz County supervisor.

The question addressed at this year’s conference was how do we achieve the goal of making 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up broadband service ubiquitous in the region? Participants, who represented local governments, Internet service providers, businesses and non-profit organisations, identified better access to capital, greater public-private cooperation and proactive local broadband development policies as the team’s 2019 objectives.

Achieving Ubiquitous Broadband Coverage in the Monterey Bay Region, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership and Central Coast Broadband Consortium, November 2018.

Monterey Bay Region Broadband Leadership Team

  • Ray Corpuz, City of Salinas
  • Peggy Dolgenos, Cruzio
  • John Freeman, City of San Juan Bautista
  • Zach Friend, County of Santa Cruz
  • Chris Frost, Cruzio
  • James Hackett, Cruzio
  • Matt Huffaker, City of Watsonville
  • Mary Ann Leffel, MCBC
  • Chip Lenno, CSUMB
  • Maureen McCarty, Assemblymember Mark Stone’s office
  • René Mendez, City of Gonzales
  • Andy Myrick, City of Salinas
  • Larry Samuels, CSUMB
  • Brad Smith, UCSC
  • Jim Warner, UCSC
  • Steve Blum, Tellus Venture Associates
  • Freny Cooper, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership
  • Kate Roberts, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership

Broadband subsidies should be spent on California’s future

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

There’s more than $100 million left for broadband infrastructure subsidies in the California Advanced Services Fund and the California Public Utilities Commission is considering whether to set its own, statewide priorities for spending it. The first draft of a staff white paper that looks at objective methods of determining those priorities is open for comment, and I submitted three recommendations on behalf of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium on Friday…

  1. Be forward looking in assessing broadband development needs. Adopting the 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speed standard, as the draft white paper in effect does, is a step backward for California, rather than a sorely needed leap forward. The technology and infrastructure required to deliver service at that level is inferior to that required to meet the CPUC’s current minimum service level of 6 Mbps download/1.5 Mbps upload speeds. Likewise, eliminating areas from consideration that are partly served by fixed wireless service will leave hundreds of thousands of Californians with either no broadband access at all or service that has no standards of reliability, affordability or public safety to meet.

    Instead, the commission should base its needs assessment on the availability of service that meets the federal 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload standard for advanced services and complies with the same kind of quality, reliability and integrity requirements that the commission mandates for other telecommunications service providers.

  2. Assess social impact as well as economic feasibility. When the CCBC conducted its priority-setting exercise in 2014, we evaluated both the social impact and the economic feasibility of pursuing broadband infrastructure projects in the areas we assessed. The draft white paper properly and cogently assesses economic feasibility, but does not consider social impact.

    We recommend running, as we did, a separate social impact analysis based on population (as opposed to number of housing units or households), number of community anchor institutions, the proportion of the community that would be reached by CASF-funded projects, and median household income. The result would be two analytical tools that could be applied by policy makers, and that could be rolled up, as we did, into a single, unified ranking.

  3. Apply the results of the analysis on a prospective basis. As of today, seven CASF broadband infrastructure grant proposals are pending and have been under review for an average of 435 days, 330 days past the deadline established by Decision 12-02-015 and reaffirmed by Resolution T-17443. Two major projects, Digital 299 and Gigafy Phelan, have been awaiting action for 586 days. These seven projects required hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours to prepare, and were submitted in reliance on good faith and the published criteria for such grants, as established by the commission.

    The delays and inconsistencies in the review and approval of CASF infrastructure projects has made it very difficult to find capable, reputable and financially able private sector partners. If the commission breaks faith with applicants and applies any new project criteria or priorities retroactively, it will make such recruitment impossible.

The first hint as to what commissioners will do with the remaining CASF money and, perhaps, what they think of the draft methodology should come on Thursday, when they consider a $41 million grant proposal for Digital 299, a northern California middle mile project.

Monterey Bay broadband expert group offers conduit design advice

by Steve Blum • , , ,

It’s one thing to say that empty telecoms conduit – shadow conduit – should be installed anytime a street is repaved or a utility trench is dug, but that begs a question: what kind of conduit, and how should it be designed?

To answer that question, the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership and the Central Coast Broadband Consortium convened a technical expert group that included senior public works engineers, Internet service providers, underground construction contractors and manufacturers. An intense discussion at an afternoon meeting at U.C. Santa Cruz produced a draft set of shadow conduit specifications and guidance, which then circulated through several rounds of revisions.

Consensus was reached on a number of key items, including appropriate conduit size…

  1. 2-inch conduit is sufficient for multiple high capacity fiber cables using current technology (432 strands or more), and can be subdivided using inner-duct that would allow multiple service providers to share a single conduit.
  2. 4-inch conduit has even more capacity but, due to its larger size, can present design problems, for example when connecting to vaults. This size of conduit was standard when telecommunications systems depended on thick bundles of copper cables, but is not necessary for most modern fiber applications. However, 4-inch conduit should be considered for installation on bridges, railroad crossings and in other circumstances where future changes would be particularly difficult or impossible.
  3. Smaller conduit, e.g. 1.25-inch, is useful when it is not possible to install 2-inch conduit or when many, separate conduits are installed. It may be preferred when conduits are expected to be used by a single service provider, rather than shared among many over time, or when it meets the needs of an anticipated project or service provider.

Other specs included vault and hand hole placement, conduit system design considerations and preferred installation locations.

The document is intended to guide shadow conduit design decisions, not dictate them. It represents the broad consensus of the expert group members, but actual designs will ultimately depend on the specific circumstances of any given project or jurisdiction.

The next subject that the MBEP/CCBC expert group plans to tackle is microtrenching. It’s a fiber installation technique that, on the one hand, reduces project costs, but on the other hand can impact street service life and maintenance costs.

MBEP/CCBC Shadow Conduit Specifications version 1.0

Regional economy depends on infrastructure, particularly fiber and conduit

by Steve Blum • , , ,

More broadband equals more work and fewer cars on the road.

“The most important infrastructure for the future is fast, reliable internet connectivity”, said Bud Colligan, co-chair of the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) as he opened a day long conference on the state of the region’s economy. He said that incumbent telephone and cable companies have a big role to play in that, but “it is in our public interest to have a level playing field with robust competition”.

Broadband is intertwined with other infrastructure problems. Rebuilding or expanding roads, for example, offers an opportunity to put conduit in the ground. Colligan said MBEP would be working to make sure that dig once policies developed by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium – under consideration now by several local agencies – are approved and implemented by every city and county in the region.

Some – both the City and the County of Santa Cruz, for example – have adopted those policies, but actually getting broadband conduit into open trenches is still a challenge. “There’s a tremendous problem because the budgets for the roads don’t include any money for conduit, even though it’s so inexpensive”, said Peggy Dolgenos, CEO of Cruzio, a local Internet service provider, pointing out that it’s as much about transportation as it is about telecoms. “One of our goals is to get 3,000 people off the roads…one of the ways we’re trying to do it is better broadband”, she said.

“I urge all the elected officials in the room, it’s something that you all have to ask for in every meeting”, Colligan concluded. “If we’re not making this minimal investment right now…then we’re really being penny wise and pound foolish”.

Santa Cruz to Soledad fiber optic network shifts course, makes progress

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Work on an independent fiber route that will run from Santa Cruz to Watsonville, and then on through Salinas to Soledad is moving ahead. So far it’s just paperwork that’s getting done, but that’s the part of the project that takes the most time. Originally proposed in 2013 and awarded a $10.6 million subsidy (out of a total cost of $13.3 million) by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2014, the network owner, Sunesys, LLC, spent a year obtaining environmental clearances and is now negotiating construction permits with the cities and counties along the way.

One change in the route will make a big difference to Cabrillo College and, potentially, businesses on a half mile stretch of Soquel Drive west of the college. As first designed, the fiber path followed Soquel Drive from Highway 1 near Dominican Hospital to just before Cabrillo College, where it jumped back over the freeway to take advantage of an existing, and relatively inexpensive, utility pole route. After discussions with the school and urging from local officials, particularly Aptos supervisor Zach Friend, Sunesys agreed to adjust the route so that it extends an extra mile along Soquel Drive.

You can explore the route via the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s interactive fiber map. Click on the advanced button, and go to the Layers tab. Under the Utility heading, select “Sunesys segments”. It’s a middle mile network, which means it isn’t meant to directly serve end users, except for very large ones like Cabrillo or U.C. Santa Cruz. Instead, the business plan calls for local Internet service providers to lease capacity on the system – the wholesale cost is very low, due to the CPUC subsidy – and then build out retail connections to businesses and, perhaps, homes.

The official schedule calls for the network to light up in about a year and half, but so far there have been no roadblocks and an earlier start date is possible.

Projects, policies and plans for broadband development on California’s central coast

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Click for the presentation.

Broadband projects and policy are moving ahead on California’s central coast. That was my message to a meeting with elected officials from Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, convened in June by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC).

The project with the biggest impact on the region is the middle mile link between Santa Cruz and Soledad, which is being built by Sunesys and largely paid for by the California Public Utilities Commission via the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

Others include CASF-funded upgrades for Pinnacles Telephone Company in San Benito County and Surfnet in northern Monterey County, municipal dark fiber and conduit systems in Watsonville and Hollister, a city-backed fiber to the premise project in Santa Cruz, a plan for building out fiber infrastructure in unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County and several fixed wireless-based grant proposals for service, primarily in the Salinas Valley.

On the policy side, both the County of and the City of Santa Cruz have approved formal broadband development policies and the City of Salinas and the City of Watsonville have adopted the practice of installing conduit in city street projects.

Looking ahead, the CCBC has a list of 12 high priority projects that were included on a list of statewide priorities adopted by the CPUC. Half of the communities targeted are in the Salinas Valley, where 100,000 people lack access to broadband service that meets the minimum standards set by the CPUC. That’s a huge challenge for the cities – Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield and King City – affected, as well as several unincorporated communities. It’s a challenge that’s top of mind for the CCBC too.

Download my presentation here (about 9 MB)

A skeptical eye finds more broadband opportunities

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Click for the full presentation.

The California Public Utilities Commission collects a mountain of data from Internet service providers, and does a good job of sorting it out and publishing it in a very accessible way. But as a state regulatory agency, the CPUC can’t arbitrarily decide which claims it’ll believe and which it’ll discount. So it runs tests.

Ryan Dulin, the head of the CPUC division that regulates telecoms companies and manages broadband infrastructure subsidies through the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), demonstrated how that works for mobile broadband, running a speed test on his Verizon service during his presentation at a broadband conference for local government officials. The result was 4 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. Which is just a teeny bit different from the service report Verizon submitted to the commission, claiming it delivers somewhere between 10 Mbps and 25 Mbps download speeds in Riverside, where the event – organised by the California Emerging Technology Fund – was held this week.

It highlighted the need to drill further down into the data and do on-site verification, if local agencies and independent Internet service providers want to pursue CASF-subsidised broadband projects. When my turn to speak came, I showed how a couple of analytical techniques that I’ve helped develop – along with colleagues from several regional broadband consortia – that highlights where local broadband gaps and opportunities can be found.

One was the broadband report card analysis I initially ran for the East Bay Broadband Consortium, which grades the broadband infrastructure in neighborhoods, cities and counties on an A-B-C-D-F scale. The other was a broadband opportunity heat map, which highlights areas that are eligible for CASF funding according to population density – from red, which means lots of potential customers, down to green which means not so much. The Central Coast Broadband Consortium was the first to use that technique to identify broadband development priority areas.

The key is to focus on primary wireline network operators – incumbent cable and telephone companies, mostly – and ignore, at least initially, what wireless companies and resellers claim to deliver. That helps policy makers and entrepreneurs figure out what’s actually on the poles and in the ground, and set priorities for broadband investment.