Tag Archives: webpass

The amazing shrinking Google Fiber

by Steve Blum • , , ,

More empty chairs.

In the latest sign that Google is backing out of the Internet access business, hundreds of employees, including two top executives, have been shuffled out of telecoms jobs and into other parts of the company. According to a Bloomberg story by Mark Bergen, Google is cleaning house at its Access division…

Milo Medin, a vice president at Access, and Dennis Kish, a wireless infrastructure veteran who was president of Google Fiber, are leaving the division but staying at the Alphabet holding company. Gregory McCray, who was appointed head of Access in February, told staff about the management changes at a Thursday meeting. An Access spokesman confirmed the changes, but declined to comment further…

The Access division has continued to shrink. About 600 employees are currently being reassigned to the Google internet business and other Alphabet divisions, according to sources familiar with the plans.

There’s no word on what Medin and Kish will be doing, which isn’t terribly surprising. When executives in troubled business lines are sent off to nebulous jobs in corporate limbo, the odds on bet is that they’ll soon be either pursuing other interests or spending more time with their families.

Now that Google has pulled back from launching new fiber markets and slowed, or perhaps even stopped, expansion of existing systems, the question is what will happen to its wireless plans in general and its acquisition of Webpass in particular.

Right now, the focus seems to be on delivering broadband service to apartment houses via wireless backhaul. That could be a good niche business, but Google has never been very interested in niche businesses that didn’t have the prospect of a hockey stick upside. Last year’s magic radio flirtation appears to be over, or at least Medin’s departure would seem to indicate that, since he’d taken the lead on it.

Google Fiber says no settlement, CPUC to decide protest of Webpass deal

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Big or small?

Google Fiber won’t agree to a settlement with the only group to lodge a protest in California to its acquisition of Webpass, an independent Internet service provider. The deal requires approval from the California Public Utilities Commission because Webpass is certified as a competitive telecoms company, which makes it a regulated public utility.

This sort of review is usually routine. Exceptions are generally the result of past problems with CPUC rules – not an issue in this case – or occur when the companies involved are major players in California’s telecoms ecosystem. Charter Communications’ successful purchase of Time Warner and Comcast’s failed attempt to do much the same are two recent examples. Webpass and Google Fiber do not play in that league and neither the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates or any of the usual outside “intervenors” – organisations that make a living by protesting or otherwise getting directly involved in proceedings – raised any concerns about the transaction.

Except one. The National Diversity Coalition – an umbrella group that includes more than a dozen minority-focused organisations – challenged Google’s purchase of Webpass and called for a deeper investigation into whether the deal serves the public interest, and in particular how it would affect the communities it claims to represent. It is a standard tactic and is often used to extract concessions from the companies involved, sometimes for benefits that flow to the general public – Charter’s obligation to upgrade broadband service in redlined areas is an example – but also sometimes for payments or other perks that go directly to the intervenors themselves.

NDC’s argument boils down to Google is a big company, so it should get the full treatment. As is standard procedure in these cases, the two sides held settlement talks, but judging from the statement Google filed with the CPUC last week, NDC wanted a truckload of data regarding finances, corporate policy and practices and other matters that companies usually consider to be proprietary. All in an effort, Google said, “to extract various conditions and commitments from [Google and Webpass] wholly unrelated to the limited transaction before the CPUC”.

So instead of agreeing to NDC’s demands in exchange for it dropping its protest, Google is kicking the decision back to the CPUC administrative law judge and commissioner who are assigned to the case. A conference is scheduled for Wednesday morning in San Francisco.

I assisted the City of Gonzales in its challenge to Charter at the CPUC and its subsequent and successful negotiations. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Free access to public streets is a gift with strings, not AT&T’s monopoly right

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The streets of San Francisco already take a beating.

AT&T wants to decide where and how competitors install fiber in conduit, manholes and handholes that it owns. That’s the gist of its response to a complaint filed by Webpass with the California Public Utilities Commission.

California law requires any utility – telecoms or electric – that installs poles and conduit in the public right of way to share those facilities with any qualified competitor. Utilities can use this public property for free, but that gift comes with strings attached.

The rules laid down by the CPUC include standard methods for sharing costs and managing access, but many of the details are left to the companies involved to work out. Webpass – which is in the process of being acquired by Google – asked AT&T for permission to use its conduit in San Francisco. AT&T said yes, but. The but blew a hole in Webpass’ business plan.

At issue is whether Webpass can splice fiber inside AT&T manholes and install fiber in either empty inner ducts – physical subdivisions inside bigger conduit made via several smaller conduits or using other material – or in conduit or inner duct with an existing cable that doesn’t take up all the available space.

In effect, AT&T’s response admits that it routinely denies competitors access to its manholes and otherwise empty conduit space, but that it will magnanimously consider granting exceptions. At its discretion and according to undisclosed criteria.

Which is the problem. Conduit and pole access laws exist to minimise the damage and obstructions caused by digging in public streets and to try to create a more competitive market for services. AT&T response shows that it could care less about the former and doesn’t want the latter…

Webpass claims it has been unfairly discriminated against because it cannot place its splice cases inside AT&T’s manholes. Based on the license applications submitted by Webpass, Webpass intends to place a splice case in manholes owned by AT&T California that are located in the streets outside of each of Webpass’ customers’ locations. Webpass has informed AT&T California that this would include hundreds of manholes.

Just so. Webpass wants to compete against AT&T in San Francisco and it stands to reason that means hooking up a lot of customers that AT&T would prefer had no other choice.

Rather than allowing Webpass to put its splices inside AT&T manholes where there’s room, AT&T wants Webpass to dig its own holes in San Francisco streets where ever possible. That shifts the cost onto San Franciscans, who have to maintain the streets and who’ll pay a higher price for Internet access, either because Webpass’ costs go up or because it can’t do the project, leaving them in the grip of AT&T’s monopoly.

AT&T’s response offers the usual we only want to ensure reliability for everyone justification for its policies. That’s certainly a legitimate concern and it should be factored into public right of way access decisions, but those decisions should not be left solely in the hands of AT&T, which also has less altruistic motives at heart.

Competitive ISPs need access to conduit, but it has be there in the first place

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The need for open trench notification policies is particularly acute when a local agency restricts future cuts into a given street, after the completion of a trenching or repaving project. But the need to rapidly respond to changes in the broadband industry and market conditions means that a new, or newly expanding, competitive Internet service provider is a disadvantage if, say, a five year moratorium was put into effect on a particular street three years ago, before the company was even founded.

San Francisco puts a five year moratorium on utility trenching and other excavations after work is done on a street, which is one of the many factors Webpass is citing as reasons for the California Public Utilities Commission to remove restrictions that AT&T places on use of its existing conduit

In many areas, such as San Francisco, the ability to use aerial facilities is limited, which requires Webpass to install a good portion of its facilities, such as fiber optic cabling, underground. While Webpass has authority from the [CPUC] to construct its own underground conduit systems and other support structures…it is generally uneconomical and, due to the imposition of moratoriums and other restrictions on trenching within roadways, often highly impractical, to do so. Therefore, like other CLECs, Webpass must rely on the availability of unused capacity in existing utility infrastructure, such as that owned by AT&T California.

Competitive carrier access to incumbents’ conduit is required in California, but, as Webpass’ fight shows, it is not always graciously granted or, to be fair, always possible. And even if it were, there’s still the problem of what to do if there’s a street cut moratorium that results from a project that didn’t include conduit. If it’s not there, it can’t be accessed.

That’s why shadow conduit policies and close review of conduit capacity when encroachment permits are granted is necessary. If a utility – telecoms or electric – wants to install conduit in a street and trigger a street cut moratorium, then one of the requirements should be the installation of sufficient capacity – bigger or more conduits – to meet future demand. The other alternative is for the public agency granting the encroachment permit to install publicly conduit at the same time – a shadow conduit policy. That’s also baked into San Francisco’s ordinances, but it’s unclear as to how diligently it’s being pursued.

More information about dig once, open trench, shadow conduit and similar policies are on my Policy Bank page.

California conduit battle continues as AT&T dances around the question

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Webpass’ fight with AT&T over access to conduit continues. That’s the word from a Kind Reader of this humble blog who seems to be in a position to know. Yesterday’s post about the complaint Webpass has filed with the California Public Utilities Commission about AT&T’s conduit access practices was behind events on a couple of points. I didn’t know the outcome of last week’s hearing or the fact that Google Fiber bought Webpass on Wednesday. Thank you to everyone who helped bring me up to speed.

The issue is whether AT&T can impose whatever rules it concocts on a given day to deny – or sufficiently restrict so as to deny for practical purposes – competitive telecoms companies access to conduit and pole routes it owns. California (and federal) law says incumbent utilities – telephone, electric or, to some extent, cable – have to share pole and conduit space, but without defining the details. Like whether that means extra space in a conduit – a common condition – or just the second or third (not so likely) spare, discrete duct that happened to be installed. Which is what AT&T told Webpass, according to the request for arbitration Webpass filed.

Instead of buying AT&T’s lawyerly argument that Webpass’ complaint was technically deficient, the administrative law judge assigned to the case encouraged the two companies to work out a mutually acceptable compromise and scheduled a second hearing for next month, according to our Kind Reader. AT&T’s fallback position seems to be that particular responses about particular matters by lower level staff isn’t company policy, so nothing to see here, move along. Again, according to our Kind Reader.

This is a very important public policy question for Californian telecoms companies and regulators. It boils down to who is the gatekeeper for competition? If the answer is AT&T, Comcast, PG&E and every other monopoly provider, then don’t expect lower prices, better service or civil customer service anytime soon.

Google Fiber buys Webpass, jumps into CLEC infrastructure access fight

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Webpass was just acquired by Google Fiber. See this morning’s blog post about Webpass’ beef with AT&T at the California Public Utilities Commission for more info on what Webpass is up to.

It won’t have an immediate impact on the proceeding – lots of hoops to jump through first – but long term, it gives Google Fiber a big, new weapon in its fight to gain access to fundamental broadband infrastructure in California. There are also implications – positive – for its current fiber-to-the-apartment project in San Francisco.

Thank you to everyone who emailed/tweeted/poked me this morning. I didn’t see the press release yesterday. My excuse is that I’m working in a poorly served area of rural California this week, and this is the way it is for too many people. But we’re going to change that!

Webpass challenges AT&T’s iron grip on conduit

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Update: Webpass was just acquired by Google Fiber. That won’t have an immediate impact on the proceeding – lots of hoops to jump through first – but long term, it’ll be fun to watch. Stay tuned.

Telephone companies and other regulated utilities have to share conduit and pole access. They can charge each other a particular rate for it or, if usable space is lacking, require upgrades. But they can’t refuse access completely and it has to be granted on a non-discriminatory basis.

It is notoriously difficult to get access to AT&T conduit. Now, a complaint (technically, a request for arbitration) filed with the California Public Utilities Commission by Webpass, a competitive broadband provider, documents exactly how hard it is. Links to the full set of documents are below.

Webpass tried to get permission to run fiber optic cables through AT&T’s conduits and put splice cases and loops of coiled, slack cable in AT&T’s manholes. According to Webpass’ filing, AT&T just said no

AT&T California rejected Webpass’ plans to install splice cases and coil loops. In addition, while the drawings show that many ducts are only partially-filled, AT&T California has stated to Webpass that a fiber optic cable override (i.e., installation of fiber optic cable in available space that is already partially occupied by an existing AT&T California cable) is never allowed except in entrance facilities owned by other parties or unless AT&T California’s cable is enclosed in an innerduct, which is rarely the case. This means that even though there may be ample space in multiple partially-used conduits, in most cases AT&T California refuses to allow Webpass to install fiber in those conduits. And, in cases where Webpass is allowed to override an existing AT&T Califomia innerduct containing a fiber optic cable, AT&T California requires Webpass to install two additional innerducts, one for Webpass’ use and one to be reserved for AT&T Califomia’s use.

What is more, AT&T always denies access to the last open conduit in any location, because AT&T California claims a right to reserve that conduit for AT&T Califomia’s exclusive future use. Such conduit might be for entrance to a new building to which AT&T California just installed service (for which a spare conduit would likely remain unneeded for many years) or it could be an open conduit between two manholes in the street. In either event, if it is the last open conduit, AT&T Califomia has been very clear that access will be denied 100% of the time.

AT&T California’s policies are blatantly discriminatory and anticompetitive. AT&T California installs its own splice cases in manholes, and Webpass is informed that AT&T California has permitted other communications providers to do so as well. Exhibit C is a photograph of splice cases in an AT&T California manhole. Webpass is also informed that AT&T California freely overrides its own cables and innerducts (as well as cables and innerducts owned by other companies) in partially vacant conduit, including where the existing cable in the conduit consists of copper pairs. Additionally AT&T Califomia does not go through the same roping and tagging process to reserye space that competitive providers are compelled to follow’ AT&T California just sends out crews to install cable in any available open space and documents the build upon completion.

AT&T’s initial response was to have the complaint dismissed as improper on technical grounds. The first hearing was scheduled for last Friday and by all appearances seems to have taken place, although I haven’t confirmed it. If the CPUC jumps into this dispute with both feet, it will be an important precedent for competitive broadband providers, no matter what it decides.