Tag Archives: rdof

AT&T not on FCC’s list of potential RDOF bidders, but 505 others are

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Paicines pole route

AT&T is not on the list of 505 would-be rural broadband subsidy bidders released by the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday. It’s also not listed as a member of any of the 38 consortia – bidding groups – and none of the other 467 contenders are obviously AT&T subsidiaries. None of the FCC registration numbers directly held by AT&T match up to any of the listed bidders either.

It’s difficult to prove a negative, but so far it appears that absence of evidence is also evidence of absence. AT&T does not appear to be interested in going after the $16 billion in ten year operating subsidies that the FCC will be awarding in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction next month.

The list is a bit of a tease. The FCC isn’t telling us which states these companies intend to bid in – California might or might not be in their dreams.

Other major California Internet service providers are also missing from the list, or have been tagged as having “incomplete” applications. Only one of California’s incumbent telcos filed complete paperwork the first time around. Consolidated Communications, which operates in a small area east of Sacramento, is ready to go. There were no other obviously Californian ISPs among the 121 organisations on the “complete” list.

Frontier is one of the 384 ISPs on the “incomplete” list, sailing under its bankruptcy-induced “debtor in possession” flag. So is Cox Communications, Altice (aka Suddenlink) and a couple of smaller cable operators, Horizon and Mediacom. But not Charter, despite signalling earlier this year that it would chase RDOF money, or Comcast, which comes as no surprise. Also in the incomplete category are Californian wireless Internet service providers and independent wireline ISPs.

The auction is scheduled to begin on 29 October 2020. Bidders that need to clean up their paperwork have until 6:00 p.m. eastern time on 23 September 2020 to do so. The FCC doesn’t seem likely to grant any extra time. At the same time that it published the lists, the FCC also published a sharply worded order denying five requests for extension of an earlier deadline. Pleas for waivers of eligibility or due diligence requirements usually get the same treatment.

The list will only get shorter as auction time nears.

CPUC adds California money to federal broadband subsidy bids. If

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cvin fiber marker sr49

Internet service providers might get California help to improve their chances at winning in the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. Broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) could be added to their bids, per yesterday’s decision by the California Public Utilities Commission.

If.

If commission staff opens a second window for CASF grant applications quickly enough. If those proposals leverage RDOF money. And, particularly, if there’s any money left in the fund.

The decision also tweaked rules for broadband facilities grants in public housing and allowed CASF money to be spent on technical assistance for tribes (but not for other primary jurisdictions, such as cities or counties).

CASF rules set an annual date for project proposals. Usually, it’s the first of April, but it was bumped to May this year because of the covid–19 emergency. The CPUC received 54 applications totalling $533 million in requests, which is twice the theoretical CASF funding limit and more than three times the money that’s actually available.

That prompted the head of the CPUC’s communications division to send out a warning to applicants that it would be in their best interest to go after RDOF money too. A bill attached to the state budget tweaked the law to allow CASF money to go to co-funded projects that meet RDOF eligibility standards, instead of the usual, and pathetic, 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speed limit on project area eligibility.

Yesterday’s decision, written by commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, gives staff discretion to allow a second round of applications that “incorporate federal broadband funding opportunities, such as RDOF”.

The objective is to help California get its fair share (or a bit more) of the $16 billion in RDOF money that the FCC will award by reverse auction in October. Adding CASF subsidies to project financial models will allow for more aggressive bidding, giving Californian Internet service providers a competitive edge over ISPs in other states.

The mechanics of how that is supposed to happen are still to be determined. There’s a standard six month timeline for reviewing and approving CASF grant proposals, so standard procedures won’t work for an auction that’s a little more than two months away. The big if – if CASF money is available – also has to be answered.

To do that, the 54 pending applications need to be trimmed – some or all rejected completely, or proposals and service areas adjusted to allow RDOF to backfill project budgets.

FCC chokes on Digital Path’s map spam, CPUC still chewing on it as broadband subsidy decisions for rural California are made

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Spam

Nearly 426,000 California “locations” – homes, businesses, institutions – are eligible for the Federal Communications Commission’s $16 billion broadband subsidy auction in October. The California Public Utilities Commission has about $145 million for broadband infrastructure grants, primarily in rural communities. Both agencies have to sort out challenges from incumbent Internet service providers that want to block subsidies in order to protect their turf, as well as decide where to spend subsidy dollars.

In theory, the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) could bring faster, cheaper and more reliable broadband to as many as 8 million rural Californians, because the program’s rules require ISPs to serve everyone in a given area, whether eligible for subsidies or not. It won’t be that many in practice, but it will be more than some rural Internet service providers hoped. Half a dozen wireless ISPs (WISPs) and several wireline incumbents tried to maintain their monopoly hold on large swaths of rural California by filing dubious, if not out right bogus, claims that they provide adequate service in tens of thousands of census blocks.

At the top of the list is Digital Path, a WISP that operates in many rural Californian communities with a base in the northeast of the state. It challenged more census blocks than any other ISP in the U.S.

Digital Path gave the FCC a list of 40,000 census blocks where it claims to offer service at a minimum of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds to nearly a million Californians. That’s fast enough that those census blocks wouldn’t be eligible for RDOF money.

As it turns out, the FCC wasn’t planning to offer subsidies in at least 35,000 of those blocks. Of the remaining 5,000 blocks, the FCC only deemed Digital Path’s map spam valid in 1,300 blocks. Even so, that was enough to eliminate about 22,000 mostly rural Californians from potential federally funded broadband service upgrades.

Digital Path’s federal filing could – should – complicate, and maybe kill, its own requests for California broadband subsidies. In May, it submitted 11 applications asking for a total of $4.8 million from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). To get CASF money, applicants are required to assert that each census block where they want to build is eligible for the program. Which means it lacks broadband service at a minimum of 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds.

Of the 492 census blocks where Digital Path is applying for CASF money, 419 census blocks are included in Digital Path’s federal challenge.

In other words, in April Digital Path told the FCC it offered broadband service at a minimum of 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps in those 419 census blocks, then a month later told the CPUC those same blocks were eligible for CASF subsidies because the available service was slower than 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up. That assertion may have been based on the CPUC’s online eligibility map, which would not have included the service reports that Digital Path submitted to the FCC four weeks prior. Apparently, the “continuing obligation to make corrections” to service reports that Digital Path cited in its FCC challenge letter doesn’t extend to the CPUC.

In June, Digital Path made another attempt to prevent potential competitors from using subsidies to provide faster, cheaper and/or more reliable service. It filed another batch of broadband speed claims with the CPUC, challenging 12 projects proposed for CASF grants – nearly twice as many as the next most prolific challenger, Frontier Communications (which has its own credibility problems).

With $533 million in CASF grant proposals competing for $145 million in available funds, legitimate challenges will play a role in determining who wins. Character should count, too.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) supported Charter’s San Benito County proposal and assisted Etheric Networks with its application. The Connected Capital Area Broadband Consortium (CCABC) assisted DigitalPath. I assisted the CCBC and the CCABC, and also kibitzed on other projects. I also have opinions about what the CASF program should be (in case you haven’t noticed). I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Frontier’s “pervasive lack of credibility” drives FCC’s rejection of its service claims; CPUC urged to ignore its “high level rhetoric and promises”

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

There’s rapidly increasing skepticism in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. of Frontier Communications’ corporate honesty. Frontier was blasted in two separate agency actions in recent days: the California Public Utilities Commission’s review of its post bankruptcy plans and the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband subsidy auction, as it prepares to distribute the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Challenges filed by incumbent broadband providers, aimed at blocking federal subsidies in their captive rural markets, were largely dismissed by the Federal Communications Commission last week. After reviewing tens of thousands of challenges in California alone, the FCC issued its verdict and published a new list of census blocks eligible for RDOF subsidies. In unusually blistering terms, the FCC dismissed Frontier’s claims it was providing adequate broadband service in 23,000 U.S. census blocks…

Given the numerous and significant concerns in the record regarding the validity of Frontier’s filing, including its own admission that it had misfiled its June 2019 data and then misfiled (again) the data for its challenge, and inconsistent explanations for its challenge, we conclude that taken together there is a pervasive lack of credibility and accordingly deny Frontier’s challenge regarding its deployment and decline to exclude those blocks from consideration for eligibility.

Frontier’s facile attempt to convince the CPUC to approve whatever settlement comes out of its New York bankruptcy proceeding on the basis of faith in its selfless devotion to the interests of Californians was similarly slammed in protests filed this week by a major telecoms union – the Communications Workers of America (CWA) – and three advocacy organisations, and CPUC staff.

CWA and the three organisations – TURN, the Greenlining Institute and the Center for Accessible Technology – pointed to the major role that Frontier plays in California’s telecoms market, and said the CPUC…

Has a statutory obligation to conduct a full analysis of the impact of this transaction that goes beyond a high level public interest review and to require [Frontier] to provide the Commission with more than high level rhetoric and promises.

They cited, among other things, Frontier’s failure to live up to promises made when it acquired Verizon’s decaying copper telephone systems in California and questioned its willingness to meet obligations attached to state subsidies, including money from the California Advanced Services Fund.

The CPUC’s quasi-independent public advocates office also asked for a full review, citing Frontier’s “unsubstantiated claims” and demanding specific plans for “network infrastructure investments, service quality and reliability improvements, consumer protections, including pricing, and broadband deployment”.

Frontier’s wish for quick and cursory CPUC approval by October is a forlorn hope.

California tops up federal broadband subsidy bids, as FCC trims RDOF eligibility list

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Pouring wine

Californian communities lost potential broadband subsidy money last week, but might have gained some back yesterday. On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission eliminated 48,000 “locations” – homes, businesses, community facilities – in what appears to be 3,100 census blocks from the preliminary eligibility list for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), following a review of tens of thousands of challenges from incumbent broadband providers who wanted to freeze out potential competitors. I say “appears to be” because the FCC’s numbers don’t line up with census bureau stats – that discrepancy should be resolved eventually.

Yesterday, California governor Gavin Newsom signed assembly bill 82 into law. It waives restrictions on the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) – California’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program – and allows the California Public Utilities Commission to add money from it to RDOF-funded projects.

A census block is eligible for RDOF money if it lacks broadband service at 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds. CASF subsidies are usually restricted to census blocks without service at 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up, which means that far fewer rural homes and communities are eligible. AB 82 allows CASF funds to be spent on projects that also receive RDOF money.

RDOF subsidies are awarded via a reverse auction. Broadband providers bid down the amount of money they’re willing to accept in exchange for offering a particular level of service in a given area. Putting CASF subsidies on the table allows Californian providers to bid lower and, it is hoped, win even more federal money that’ll be spent here.

Thursday’s changes mean about 10% of the locations are gone from the preliminary RDOF eligibility list that the FCC published in March. Because of the formulae used to calculate maximum subsidy amounts, only 6% of the maximum potential money is off the table. But the maximum doesn’t mean much. The ten year total reserve price for eligible census blocks in California dropped from $2.5 billion to $2.3 billion. In theory, all of that money could end up in California. In reality, it won’t – half or a little better is a more realistic expectation.

Wireless, DSL tech proposed for subsidised rural broadband will get extra scrutiny from FCC

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Clouseau 625

When the Federal Communications Commission last week approved application requirements and bidding procedures for the reverse auction it’ll use to distribute $16 billion in rural broadband subsidies, it toughened up language regarding performance claims for fixed wireless and DSL-based service. The final version of the rules builds on an earlier draft that was already highly sceptical of any potential claims that wireless or DSL technology could deliver gigabit level service – defined as 1,000 Mbps download and 500 Mbps upload speeds – on a consumer market basis.

The FCC plans to grill bidders making such claims…

We anticipate that Commission staff will benefit from having the opportunity to discuss network plans with each applicant through the Commission’s existing resubmission process. An applicant proposing to deploy fixed wireless and DSL technologies to offer Gigabit speeds and any engineers that assisted with the application must be prepared to engage in follow-up conference calls upon request with Commission staff to elaborate on their…responses with a particular focus on concerns raised in the record.

We retain maximum flexibility to take enforcement action based on the specifics of each circumstance. We do note that the base default [fine] we have already adopted for Auction 904 will be subject to adjustment upward or downward as appropriate…All applicants should conduct due diligence and consider seriously whether they will be able to meet the relevant public interest obligations before selecting performance tier and latency combinations in their applications.

Translation: put up or shut up. Or get whacked with thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of dollars in fines.

Fixed wireless providers, particularly, will have to show how any gigabit service claims they make conform to the laws of physics. Or as the FCC puts it, they’ll have to answer challenging questions about…

Distance limitations, spectrum bands attributes, channel bandwidths requirements, backhaul and medium haul requirements, tower siting requirements, capacity constraints, required upstream speeds, required minimum monthly usage allowances, and other issues raised in the record.

The door also opened a crack to low earth orbit satellite systems, particularly SpaceX’s Starlink constellation. Instead of being barred from claiming low latency capability, they’ll also “face a substantial challenge” convincing FCC staff that they have it.

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund phase 1 auction Procedures public notice, 11 June 2020
Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction technical guide, 10 June 2020

FCC skeptical about magic wireless solutions as it sets rules for rural broadband subsidy auction

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Magic radio 625

The Federal Communications Commission will push ahead with its plan to distribute $16 billion (of an eventual $20 billion total) in broadband subsidies via a reverse auction in late October. In a draft notice that will be finalised at its June meeting next week, the FCC lays out rules, procedures and standards for Internet service providers that want to submit bids for money from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. It also rejects a request from the California Public Utilities Commission to delay the auction for four months.

ISPs that plan to us magic radios or decrepit copper networks to deliver gigabit or other high performance level service will – correctly – face skepticism from the FCC…

While an applicant will be permitted to select the Gigabit performance tier in its application if it intends to use fixed wireless or DSL technologies…such applicants face a high burden to persuade Commission staff that it is reasonably capable of meeting the public interest obligations and thus qualified to bid for the Gigabit performance tier. Particularly for DSL services, we do not anticipate that an applicant using DSL technologies would be able to demonstrate that it is reasonably capable of offering a service that meets the Gigabit performance tier public interest obligations absent a hybrid approach that relies mostly on fiber. Likewise, given distance limitations, spectrum and infrastructure constraints, tower siting requirements, required upstream speeds, and required minimum monthly usage allowances, we expect it will be similarly challenging for a fixed wireless provider to make a case that it can offer a mass market service meeting the Gigabit performance tier public interest obligations…This is so especially for entities lacking an operational history of offering Gigabit service in rural areas. Accordingly, we expect that relatively few fixed wireless and DSL technologies will be able to meet the short-form requirements for bidding in the Gigabit performance tier.

Wireless and DSL-based bidders that want to try anyway have to submit detailed technical information, but the FCC warns them not to play games…

We remind potential applicants that they are certifying under penalty of perjury in their short-form applications that they are technically qualified to meet the public interest obligations for each performance tier and latency combination they select. The Commission may initiate enforcement proceedings against applicants that submit threadbare or wholly unrealistic technical showings.

Although eligibility is defined at the census block level, bidding will be done by census block group. A company that wins a bid for a given census block group will have to serve all the eligible locations within it. It’s a good choice from a Californian perspective. The alternative was to use census tracts, which are larger (i.e. are made up of multiple census block groups). That would have been fine for the homogenous midwestern plains, but rural California is more geographically, economically and demographically diverse and needs a more granular approach.

The final list of eligible census blocks and subsidy amounts hasn’t been published yet. Last week, the CPUC asked the FCC to disregard the long list of dubious challenges to census block eligibility submitted by ISPs that want to fence off large swaths of California from broadband upgrades so that they can continue to profit from the low performance, high cost service they offer to captive customers. The FCC is yet to respond.

The notice does a lot of other things. It details procedures for the 29 October 2020 auction and sets out a schedule leading up to it, starting with opening the registration window on 1 July 2020, and closing it on 15 July 2020. Application requirements – a short form before the auction and a long form for winners afterwards – is detailed, along with rules for the auction itself. The short form might not be all that short, though. The FCC will use it to initially “assess the likelihood that an applicant would not default”, with more intense due diligence coming after the auction.

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund phase 1 auction Procedures draft public notice, 19 May 2020

CPUC asks FCC to ignore attempts to block broadband subsidies for a million Californians

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Digital path april 2020 rdof challenges

Internet service providers are trying to fence off their turf from competitors who might bring faster, and maybe even cheaper, broadband service to rural communities in California, and across the U.S. They challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary list of census blocks that are eligible for subsidies from the new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which is scheduled to award $16 billion in broadband subsidies via a reverse auction in October.

An article by Joan Engebretson in Telecompetitor gives a good overview. California’s second and third biggest telcos – Frontier and Consolidated – claimed that they offer broadband service of at least 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds in more than 30,000 blocks across the U.S. that the FCC tentatively classified as eligible for RDOF subsidies. Many of those census blocks are in California.

But they weren’t the greediest challenger. The national champion in that regard is Digital Path, a northern California wireless Internet service provider (WISP). It told the FCC to block broadband subsidies in 40,000 census blocks, all in California. There are 987,000 people living in those census blocks, which stretch across 27 mostly rural counties. Add in the people who live in census blocks challenged by telcos and other WISPs, and the total climbs to more than a million.

The California Public Utilities Commission, along with telecoms agencies in other states, tried to make sense of this mess. As many have found, it’s very difficult to figure out who is trying to block what – the FCC didn’t set any standards or format requirements for challenges. Yesterday, CPUC communications division director Rob Osborne filed a letter with the FCC, asking it to just say no

In California alone, CPUC staff estimates that incumbent carriers and providers have challenged areas of RDOF eligibility impacting what appears to be hundreds of thousands of housing units, potentially reducing needed federal broadband dollars for our state by hundreds of millions of dollars. Nationally, as we certainly hope the FCC has come to understand, the significant potential loss to rural America is far greater…

Given the lack of a uniform submittal procedure, open and accessible data, a formal rebuttal process, and consistent with positions the CPUC has advanced, CPUC staff urges the FCC to reject all the challenges before moving forward with RDOF Phase I. At this juncture, any public benefits of the auction, and the large public investment represented by RDOF Phase I, will be jeopardized if this haphazard challenge process is left to stand. If the challenges are not dismissed in whole now, thousands of square miles of rural America and millions of unserved Americans are at risk to remain unserved after RDOF concludes.

So far, the FCC hasn’t paid any attention to the CPUC or other state-level agencies. It ignored a request from CPUC president Marybel Batjer to delay RDOF subsidies while all the problems are worked out. Democratic FCC commissioners objected to the way the FCC’s republican majority has pushed ahead, seemingly intent on handing out the money just ahead of the November presidential election.

FCC’s go it alone broadband subsidies burn state programs, commissioners say

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Thirteen days before the November election, the Federal Communications Commission plans to give away $16 billion of subsidies to broadband service providers who can deliver at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds to census blocks that lack it. Commissioners voted last week to publish the proposed 22 October 2020 date to commence a reverse auction to determine who gets those subsidies, and ask for comments on a variety of technical issues that have to be sewn up before the bidding begins.

The vote was partially unanimous, but mostly split along party lines, with the two democratic commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, objecting to various aspects of the plan, including particularly the timeline.

Rosenworcel said “this Rural Digital Opportunity Fund [RDOF] looks more like publicity stunt than policy”, but…

To do this right, we also need to acknowledge that we are not going to do it on our own. We need to work with state and local authorities and not fight their efforts to help bring broadband to their communities. But that’s not what we do here. In fact, last month in a batch of last-minute changes, the FCC decided that the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund would not be available in places where states have their own programs. By some counts, that’s as many as 30 states. That’s crazy and we have no idea how it will play out on the ground. We should be encouraging states to work with us not penalizing them for their efforts to bring broadband to communities that are struggling. We have this exactly backwards.

Starks also called for the FCC to re-do its January decision setting out eligibility and other rules for the RDOF program, this time with input from states, like California, that have their own broadband subsidy programs.

The president of the California Public Utilities Commission, Marybel Batjer, asked for that opportunity in a letter she sent to the FCC in January, but it was ignored. The final version of the FCC’s RDOF rules don’t lock out Californian communities with the pitifully slow broadband service levels that legislators adopted in 2017 following massive cash payments hard lobbying by AT&T, Frontier Communications and the cable industry, but considerable work is needed to figure out how to maximise the benefit of both federal and California subsidies.

FCC revises subsidy rules, won’t zonk California because of our low broadband standards

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Monty hall

The Federal Communications Commission approved a small do-over to the rules for its new broadband subsidy program, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Instead of blocking subsidies to any area where state broadband dollars are being spent, it will only do so where the money is paying for service at a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds.

That’s good new for California. Our primary broadband subsidy program – the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) – deems communities with broadband at the achingly slow rate of 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up as adequately served, and only requires grant recipients who build infrastructure with state money to hit the barely better speed of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up.

As originally written, the FCC’s decision could have been read as writing off CASF-funded communities with those speeds. Democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks certainly thought so, and called out the problem before the FCC voted last month. But FCC rules allow the text of a decision to be tweaked even after it’s approved. In his final comments, Starks said the FCC republican majority had a change of heart…

I received notice that the Report and Order we had voted had been revised by the Chairman in response to the concerns I raised…the post-adoption revision approved by the majority was changed to read:

In addition, we will exclude those census blocks which have been identified as having been awarded funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, or awarded funding through other similar federal or state broadband subsidy programs to provide 25/3 Mbps or better service. This is consistent with our overarching goal of ensuring that finite universal service support is awarded in an efficient and cost- effective manner and does not go toward overbuilding areas that already have service.

The FCC will vote again later this month on the tentative date of 22 October 2020 to begin a reverse auction to distribute the initial $16 billion of RDOF subsidies, even earlier than originally planned. That’s not so wonderful for California. The president of the California Public Utilities Commission, Marybel Batjer, requested a delay to give California time to get its broadband subsidy act together. The FCC doesn’t plan to wait.

FCC documents:
FCC report and order, Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, 30 January 2020 (published 7 February 2020)
FCC public notice, Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, published 7 February 2020

FCC commissioner statements, 7 February 2020:
Geoffrey Starks
Ajit Pai
Jessica Rosenworcel
Michael O’Rielly
Brendan Carr