Tag Archives: sb1130

Newsom urged to call lawmakers back to Sacramento to close broadband gap

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Salinas taco bell broadband

More than 60 people representing nearly as many organisations signed a letter, which was delivered on Tuesday, asking California governor Gavin Newsom to declare a special legislative session to specifically address the growing divide between digital haves and have nots in California…

As leaders in industry, local government, non-profit, education, and media, we represent millions of Californian families, teachers, and older adults, all of whom should have access to the benefits of technology. We urge you to use your authority as Governor to reconvene the state legislature under a special session to pass universal broadband access legislation this year that makes the necessary investments in 21st century access to end the digital divide.

Although Newsom can call a special session and direct lawmakers to return to Sacramento, California governors rarely do. More often, they’ll call a special session during a regular session, to take advantage of quirks in parliamentary procedures. As a practical matter, a governor wouldn’t invoke a special session without the concurrence of legislative leadership. There’s little point to telling assembly members and senators to go back to work unless they want to do so. Once back, legislators set their own agenda and if they’re not of a mind to do something about an issue, they won’t.

So far, only senate leaders – democratic ones; republicans don’t count for much in that regard – have shown any interest in closing the digital divide. Last session’s flagship broadband bill – senate bill 1130 – was killed in the closing days by the top men in the assembly – speaker Anthony Rendon (D- Los Angeles) and majority floor leader Ian Calderon (D- Los Angeles) – after pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars intense lobbying by monopoly model incumbents.

With the November election less than a month away and politicians of all stripes focused it, don’t bet on an order from Newsom. Post election, a lame duck special session is possible, but unlikely. The new session with newly elected members technically starts on 1 December 2020, but that’s usually just for organisational purposes.

The real action begins next year.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130 and for other useful changes to CASF, and I signed the letter to Newsom. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

AT&T delivers low quality service to low income Californians, but lavishes fiber on the rich

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Att outages by hh income

AT&T provides the highest quality service in the highest income neighborhoods of California, and the lowest quality in communities with the least income, according to a network quality study done by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The study’s initial findings were released last year. The top line conclusion was that AT&T and Frontier Communications are deliberately choking off investment in ageing copper phone systems, particularly in rural areas – now-bankrupt Frontier because it had no money for upgrades; AT&T because it could get away with it.

Chapters of the study are being released piecemeal. Some of the details are startling. The final conclusions and recommendations chapter expands on the initial summary’s description of AT&T’s economic redlining strategy. The average annual income in places where AT&T has upgraded its systems to full fiber to the premise technology is $72,000, versus $61,000 where it’s left copper networks in place.

Although the number of AT&T service outages climbed everywhere over the seven years of the study, high income neighborhoods also have more reliable service. Customers whose household income averages $42,000 a year or less experience nearly twice the number of “out of service incidents” as those who make $88,000 a year or more.

The study concludes that AT&T is holding people in low income communities hostage to deteriorating copper-based service and milking them for all they’re worth…

Those areas with the lowest household incomes tend to have the highest trouble report rates, the longest out-of-service durations, the lowest percentages of outages cleared within 24 hours, and the longest times required to clear 90% of service outages…wire centers that have experienced the smallest [legacy copper phone service] drop-off rates have exhibited the poorest performance on all service quality metrics. Clearly, those communities that AT&T perceives as the most captive are afforded the lowest levels of attention by the company. Since, as we have also found, wire centers that have received fiber upgrades exhibit superior performance on all of the service quality metrics, the fact that these upgrades have favored higher income communities may well explain the apparent inverse relationship that we have observed as between household incomes and service quality overall.

Recommended solutions include tightening service quality standards – including treating small, rural facilities the same as large, urban ones – and increasing fines when those standards aren’t met. Although the study points to the CPUC’s cynical policy of allowing AT&T and Frontier to effectively pay fines to themselves as part of the problem, it doesn’t explicitly recommend changing it.

For more background documents, click here.

Meaningless fines lead to AT&T’s, Frontier’s deplorable quality in California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Verizon taft 2dec2014

A study of AT&T’s, Verizon’s and Frontier Communications’ telephone network quality conducted by the California Public Utilities Commission shows that overall performance is poor across California. Low income communities have worse service and more outages than high income ones, but it’s not particularly good anywhere

Maximum Customer Trouble Report Rates of 6%, 8% or 10% of switched access lines per month (based on wire center size) are unduely generous because failure rates as high as these can hardly constitute acceptable service quality.

The apparently overly generous standard adopted…for Trouble Reports per Hundred access lines is in stark contrast to the requirement…that 90% of all out-of-service conditions are to be cleared within 24 hours. In fact, with the exception of the unique situation extant during the months of February and March 2016, this requirement has never been met by either AT&T or by Verizon/Frontier either on a companywide or on an individual wire center basis.

Although AT&T and Frontier, which now owns Verizon’s wireline systems, face fines, in theory, in practice they don’t: the CPUC allows them to spend the money on system maintenance and upgrades. In theory, it’s supposed to be extra maintenance and upgrade spending, but the loose accounting standards the CPUC applies makes that requirement meaningless.

The study recommends that “fines imposed due to an ILEC’s failure to meet service quality standards should be high enough so as to have the same financial consequences as poor service quality under competitive market conditions”. It doesn’t say how high that should be, but Verizon’s “unique situation” proved that telcos can perform when real money is on the line…

Verizon had actually cleared 91.58% and 92.64% of [out of service] conditions “within 24-hours of receiving notice of the out of service condition” for the months of February and March 2016, respectively, thus seemingly meeting the…requirement as the Commission had directed to be achieved as a precondition for the closing [of the sale of Californian systems to Frontier]. Faced with a powerful $10.5-billion financial incentive to do whatever was necessary to meet this condition, Verizon managed to make it happen – perhaps by importing personnel from some of its other…operations outside of California. However, this two-month compliance…was clearly an anomaly. When Frontier filed its…report for the second quarter of 2016…it showed 24-hour completion percentages for April, May and June 2016 of only 42.92%, 20.85%, and 72.35%, respectively.

It’s time for the CPUC to disavow its cynical decision to allow AT&T and Frontier to keep the money they would otherwise have to pay out in fines.

For more background documents, click here.

Broadband and other hot, unfinished business might send the California legislature into overtime. But don’t bet on it

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Chp horses capitol 3feb2016

The California legislature might not be done with broadband for the year. Or with other major issues it failed to address as the regular session collapsed into inter-house and partisan acrimony last week. Governor Gavin Newson is being asked to call the legislature back into topic-focused special sessions and broadband is on the list, along with housing, policing and other disputes. It’s also possible that the legislature will come back on its own. They can do that for particular kinds of bills, mostly ones that need a two-thirds majority such as “urgency” legislature or tax measures.

It’s typical talk in Sacramento, when hard fought, important bills stall as times runs out. Or, as with a key broadband deployment and access bill, particularly powerful lawmakers – in this case assembly speaker Anthony Rendon (D – Los Angeles) and democratic floor leader Ian Calderon (D – Los Angeles) – worry more about the money AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast and other big telecoms companies pay them than with doing their job.

I hope Newsom does call the legislature back to deal with California’s broadband divide. History doesn’t make me optimistic, though. Special session talk follows legislative meltdowns, but it’s just talk.

The first time I heard it was in 1977 when I was an intern working for a Sacramento radio news bureau, during Jerry Brown’s first term as governor. Negotiations on a bill to tax commercial and residential property separately – split the tax rolls – died on the table. It was a dire problem for many Californians at the time, as skyrocketing real estate values were sending residential property tax bills into the stratosphere. There were constant rumors of a special session, but Brown never called it.

The following spring, voters took matters into their own hands and passed Proposition 13, rolling back and all but freezing property tax rates. The first attempt to amend Prop 13 in a big way – again, by splitting the tax rolls – is on this November’s ballot, 42 years later.

The safe bet in Sacramento is on inaction.

Taco Bell cares more about disconnected Californians than California’s leaders do

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Salinas taco bell broadband

Kids sitting on curb in front of a fast food restaurant in order to get the broadband connection they need to go to schools that only operate online now is the best we can do now. The California legislature was diverted by pork barrel schemes from friends of AT&T, Comcast and other monopoly model incumbents, and finally bought into submission by the millions of dollars that those big telecoms companies pay them. Lawmakers took no action on bringing California’s broadband standard up to 21st century levels and did nothing to make it available to the millions of Californians who lack access to to it.

The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) will run out of money this year. Or come close enough to doing so that next year’s action will be negligible. Either way, the end of California’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program will be upon us as we begin 2021.

The total of pending infrastructure grant applications is three times more than available funds, and there’s still the possibility of a brief opening for new projects that leverage state money for the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction in October.

The legislature passed a bill in June that allows the CPUC to top up RDOF bids. The commission voted in August to “assign to and authorise staff to set additional infrastructure application windows”. So far, nothing has happened.

The money for CASF comes from a tax – euphemistically called a surcharge or fee – on in-state telephone calls, which is a diminishing source of revenue. The authorisation to collect it ends in 2022. Currently, it’s about half a penny on the dollar. To collect the full amount authorised, the CPUC would have to increase the rate to a full penny or more.

If the CPUC does that, then most of the pending applications could be approved and some money set aside for RDOF bids, if the largest and most speculative of the bunch are taken out. But the well will still run dry next year.

Keeping CASF going requires action from the California legislature. That didn’t happen in 2020, despite an all out push to raise CASF standards to meet 21st century broadband needs, and the start of a campaign to raise a meaningful amount of money to pay for it.

California lawmakers need to start caring as much as Taco Bell does about the public they both serve.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Killing broadband upgrade bill is good business for California assembly leaders

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Printing money us treasury image

Money matters in Sacramento, and the more ambitious the politician, the more it matters. The two men primarily responsible for killing senate bill 1130, which would have raised California’s broadband speed standard – assemblymen Anthony Rendon (D – Los Angeles) and Ian Calderon (D – Los Angeles) – hold high office, assembly speaker and democratic floor leader respectively. It comes at a high price.

In his eight years in and running for the assembly, Rendon has been paid a total of $9 million by a wide range of special interests, according to the FollowTheMoney.org website and the California secretary of state’s office. Calderon has raked in $4.6 million. That includes contributions to side hustles like ballot measure and statewide office committees. Much of it comes from labor, particularly public sector unions, and other reliably democratic cash cows, but the telecommunications and electronics industry sector is also a ready source of cash.

Rendon has collected $415,000 from the sector. AT&T is at the top of list, putting $53,000 in the speaker’s pocket since 2012. Verizon and Charter Communications come next, both with about $28,000 in payments. He’s taken a total of $83,000 in payoff from the cable industry, including $17,000 from Comcast.

Although Calderon doesn’t match Rendon’s total, he does even better on a percentage basis with the telecommunications and electronics sector, taking $328,000 in payments – 7% of his revenue. AT&T is still at the top of the list, with $54,000 in payments to Calderon, more than they paid Rendon. The cable industry as a whole paid Calderon $53,000.

Republicans get some love too. But not as much. The republican’s assembly floor leader, Marie Waldron (R – San Diego), also entered the assembly in the class of 2012. She’s only managed to score $2.8 million from all sources, with $129,000 coming from the telecommunications and electronics sector. But AT&T still leads the pack, paying Waldron $36,000. The cable industry gave her $31,000.

Or at least that’s what been reported so far. 2020 is an election year. When the dust settles in November, expect to see more payoffs from AT&T, Comcast, Charter and other telecoms companies reported.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

AT&T, cable company money buys obedience from California assembly, and slow broadband for everyone else

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Liberty whip 625

A last minute push to convince democratic leaders in the California assembly to allow a vote on raising the state’s minimum broadband speed standard failed last night in the final, chaotic hours of the regular 2020 legislative session. If you can get – well, are offered – broadband service at 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds, you are still considered adequately served under California law. Which adequately serves the monopoly business model needs of AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and the other big, incumbent broadband providers who blocked the vote.

Senate bill 1130, authored by senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles), would have raised the bar to symmetrical 25 Mbps down/25 Mbps up speeds. The California senate approved it in June, but it died in the assembly as democratic leaders refused to allow a full floor vote on it.

Had they done so, SB 1130 would have easily won the majority needed to pass. That wasn’t acceptable to assembly speaker Anthony Rendon (D- Los Angeles). Backed up by majority floor leader Ian Calderon (D- Los Angeles), Rendon pulled the bill, caving in to pressure – and loads of money – from AT&T and a solid line of cable companies, including Comcast and Charter Communications. Frontier Communications was against it too, but the relative pittance it directly puts in legislative pockets – $61,000 over the years versus $7.4 million from AT&T alone – doesn’t buy much influence. AT&T’s indirect payoffs to Californian democrats and republicans are more than five times that.

AT&T and Frontier like slow, 1990s DSL speeds because that’s what they offer to many poor and/or rural Californians. If independent competitors can get subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund to build fully modern and future proof fiber systems in those communities, AT&T and Frontier would either have to spend their own money to upgrade or lose their monopoly strangleholds. Cable companies – at least those that maintain their technology at current levels – aren’t directly threatened by a higher speed standard, but the indirect threat of competitive Internet service providers and increased attention from anti-trust enforcers keeps them in the opposition column too.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Kids don’t need fast broadband if they have fast food, California assembly says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Salinas taco bell broadband

Gratitude to the Taco Bell workers in Salinas who cared, and props to Monterey County supervisor and former assemblyman Luis Alejo for the photo.

Democratic party leaders in the California assembly iced a bill yesterday that would have raised the state’s broadband standard to modern speed levels. Speaker Anthony Rendon (D – Los Angeles) bowed to pressure – and bags of cash – from AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and other monopoly model incumbents, and blocked senate bill 1130 from a floor vote in the California assembly. Democratic floor leader Ian Calderon (D – Los Angeles) took the hand off and moved SB 1130 to the assembly’s inactive file. Conventional wisdom says it’s dead.

A rumored deal between senate democrats and Gavin Newsom that would have endorsed the governor’s 100 Mbps download target is likewise RIP.

It’s a victory for big telecoms companies and their fellow travellers in Sacramento. California’s broadband standard remains at 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds, a service level supported by the decaying 1990s DSL infrastructure that AT&T and Frontier Communications refuse to upgrade rural California. Urban and suburban Californians enjoy faster speeds, but at a price: thanks to their cozy duopoly, cable and phone companies can charge half again as much for broadband service in the U.S. as they do in Europe.

SB 1130 would have raised that standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps download and upload speeds, and allowed the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to pay for infrastructure upgrades in communities that lack it. Those subsidies could have seeded competition that neither telcos or cable companies want.

To stop that from happening, they induced a friendly assemblywoman, Cecilia Aguiar Curry (D – Yolo) to introduce assembly bill 570, which was ghostwritten by an allied non-profit, the California Emerging Technology Fund. It would have reaffirmed the 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps standard, and further weakened CASF by diverting cash into porkbarrel giveaways.

AB 570 was also pushed aside over the weekend, after it became clear that a majority of legislators in the assembly and the senate would vote in favor of SB 1130 if given the chance. Nearly all of that majority were democrats – with one exception, republicans have been opposed all along.

The clock doesn’t run out until midnight, and there’s talk of sending the legislature into overtime in September. In any other year, it would be crazy to say there’s any hope left for sound broadband policy at the California capitol. But 2020 is a crazy year.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

FCC clings to primitive standard for advanced broadband

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Bedtime for bonzo

Five years is a long time in Internet years. Broadband demand and data traffic rates continue to climb, and the number of people who absolutely need fast connections has skyrocketed in the past few months as work, education, health care and other vital services moved online in response to the covid–19 emergency. But the Federal Communications Commission, or at least its republican majority, wants to stick with a broadband speed standard – 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload – that it established more than five years ago.

In preparation for next year’s national broadband deployment report, the FCC floated draft specs that maintain the current definition of “advanced telecommunications capability” as 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up. That’s slower than the minimum needed to function in the 21st century economy and society, even before covid–19. It’s slower than the symmetrical 100 Mbps speeds adopted by house democrats in Washington D.C., and by democrats in the California senate. And it’s slower and more lopsided than the standard pushed by FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, also a democrat, for years…

The FCC has been sticking with a download standard of 25 megabits per second that it adopted more than five years ago. We need to set audacious goals if we want to do big things. With many of our nation’s providers offering gigabit service, it’s time for the FCC to adjust its baseline upward, too. We need to reset it to at least 100 megabits per second. While we’re at it we need to revisit our thinking about upload speeds. At present, our standard is 3 megabits per second. But this asymmetrical approach is dated. We need to recognize that with enormous changes in data processing and cloud storage, upload speeds should be rethought.

The California legislature is looking at exactly the same problem this week. It’s considering two bills, one that would raise the state’s minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps down/25 Mbps up speeds, and another, sponsored and carried by well compensated friends of telco and cable companies, that began by trying to lock in pitifully slow 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up service levels and only grudgingly moved to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Showdown time for California’s broadband future

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tombstone 625

Like a gut shot gunfighter with nothing to lose, assembly bill 570 is both doomed and dangerous. Amendments made by the California senate’s appropriations committee were posted late on Friday: all new money for broadband infrastructure subsidies was stripped out. What remain are the monopoly protection privileges inserted by lobbyists for big telecoms companies, and the slabs of pork they’re tossing to their faithful followers.

AB 570 is authored by assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo), but ghostwritten by the California Emerging Technology Fund, an incumbent-funded and advised non-profit. It was introduced to block senate bill 1130, a broadband subsidy bill with the mission of extending 21st century broadband service to all Californians, which is carried by senator Lena Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles).

SB 1130 threatens the monopoly business models of the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and Frontier Communications. So AB 570’s backers tried instead to cement 1990s DSL speeds – 6 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload – into law. They then grudgingly moved to a 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up standard, which pairs well with the past decade’s DSL vintage. They also extended and expanded tax authorisation for the California Advanced Service Fund, as justification and camouflage for its obstructive intent.

That pretext is gone. With bipartisan opposition evident – democrats oppose slow speeds, republicans don’t like taxes – it wouldn’t have been able to muster the two-thirds legislative supermajority it originally needed to pass. But with the tax language removed, the votes needed could be dialled back to a simple majority.

The only reason to vote it into law now is to please telco and cable lobbyists. That isn’t sufficient motivation for a two-thirds vote, but the millions of dollars they stuff into legislators’ pockets might be enough to buy a simple majority. Even against that cash fuelled opposition, SB 1130 also appears likely to gain the votes it needs. Which could set the two bills on a parliamentary collision course.

With the California legislature’s regular session heading into its final, wild week, the pressure to do something will be intense. Deals will be made quickly and behind closed doors. Stay tuned.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.