Tag Archives: WISP

Power out? No 911? California bill allows cable, telcos to say stick it

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Woolsey fire victim

Companies that provide voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and fixed wireless Internet service (WISPs) won’t, for the most part, have to keep their networks running during disasters, under a bill that was just amended in the California assembly. As now written, senate bill 431 generally confirms resiliency requirements – e.g. 72 hours of backup power and maintain access to “basic internet browsing for emergency notices” in high fire threat areas – imposed on mobile carriers by the California Public Utilities Commission this week, but draws the line there.

That’s a big win for Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Communications and other cable companies that offer telephone service via VoIP technology. All they would have to do is mail a warning label to customers once year and tell them to stick it on their phone. The warning would advise customers that losing power means losing 911 service, although it might not come across that way since weasel words like “may be impacted” are allowed.

It’s a double win for AT&T and Frontier Communications. They get the same VoIP break as cable companies, plus they’ll be able to offer service via fixed wireless facilities that have no backup power or disaster preparedness requirements at all, instead of upgrading or maintaining wireline networks, which must be kept running during emergencies and electric outages.

An earlier draft of SB 431 would have extended back up power and other network resiliency requirements to pretty much any Internet service provider in California, but that text disappeared. Presumably, that’s the work of the platoons of lobbyists that AT&T, Comcast, Charter and the rest deploy in Sacramento to stuff millions of dollars into lawmakers pockets. It’s no coincidence that the bill is scheduled to be heard in the assembly communications and conveyances committee next week, which is stuffed with lawmakers who have particularly benefited from big telecom’s generosity and have graciously repaid those favors, at least until netizens take notice.

It’s not just about 911. Twitter is emergency communication too, CPUC decides

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

In emergencies, broadband service is as important for connecting people to lifesaving information as telephone service is for reaching 911 centers. That’s effectively what the California Public Utilities Commission decided yesterday when it unanimously approved disaster preparedness requirements for wireless companies.

Those new rules require wireless companies to make sure their networks stay up for at least 72 hours after electric service goes down. The capabilities they have to maintain for their customers include “the ability to receive emergency alerts and notification”, which isn’t limited to reverse 911 calls, and “basic internet browsing during a disaster or commercial power outage”.

That’s because social media and other real time communication delivered via the Internet are integral to communications during an emergency, such as the wildfires that have swept through California in the past few years, commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves explained…

We’re not just talking about the ability to call 911. We’re talking about the ability to receive those alerts. Just as we sit here, I received an alert from the governor’s new order and how it implicates Sacramento County, on covid. Having all the social media networks that are used for providing customers and Californians this information – as you know, during many of the events, Twitter was used as a main source of information – so, a basic necessity for that Internet data service is such a key component. And it’s something that we’re going to, I’m sure, have to monitor to ensure that is provided to all Californians during these disasters and emergency times.

Where the rules go from here is an open question. Mobile carriers claim that the CPUC has no authority to impose network management requirements, because federal law gives that job to the Federal Communications Commission. The CPUC’s response is that states have broad authority when public safety is involved, and there’s nothing in federal law that preempts that power just because wireless telecommunications are involved.

The plain language of the new back up power and network resiliency requirements is not limited to mobile carriers, although the context of the decision is. Whether wireless Internet service providers – WISPs – will also have to comply, and what the corresponding obligations for wireline companies will be are also questions left for later.

Nothing guaranteed in disasters warning added to wireless resiliency plan as CPUC preps to vote

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

“There are certain disasters where it will be impossible to maintain wireless service, including during extended commercial power outages”, according to a draft decision set for a vote tomorrow by the California Public Utilities Commission. The revised version of emergency preparedness rules for “facilities-based wireless providers” proposed by CPUC president Marybel Batjer was posted on Monday, after reviewing dozens of comments submitted by a wide range of companies, industry lobbyists, consumer groups and others.

The original version of Batjer’s proposed decision obligated mobile carriers and, arguably, any other company offering wireless telecoms services to install back up generators, unless “objectively impossible”, at most facilities, and maintain a basic level of service during disasters, including “access to Internet browsing for emergency notices”. It still does that, but it now acknowledges that 100% coverage, 100% of the time regardless of circumstances isn’t going to happen in the real world.

The revision also requires wireless providers to “identify the basis” for claiming that it’s impossible to install back up power at a particular location, and “discuss actions being taken” to “mitigate service loss”.

Otherwise, the revised draft mostly polishes up some of the language in the first draft, and adds some additional case law support for its conclusions, particularly the fundamental finding that the CPUC has the authority to do what it proposes to do.

The response from telecommunications companies can be summed up as you can’t do that to us. AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and the Sacramento lobbying front organisation for the cable industry, among others, argued in comments submitted earlier this month that the CPUC doesn’t have authority to impose network management obligations on wireless carriers, or wireline companies, such as cable operators, that it doesn’t otherwise regulate.

“The Commission does not have jurisdiction to mandate the provision of interstate, information services such as internet browsing”, Verizon wrote in its comments. AT&T claimed that “the proposed decision regulates in a field that is exclusively federal”. T-Mobile and the lobbyists deployed by Comcast, Charter Communications and other cable operators sang the same song.

The Wireless Industry Association (WIA), a lobbying organisation for tower owners, construction companies and others who provide infrastructure rather than the service that rides on it, didn’t get the clarification it requested. Pointing out, as I did, that it uses mobile carriers as examples but doesn’t explicitly limit its definition of wireless providers to them, the WIA asked the CPUC to “clarify” that back up power requirements only apply to “macro cell sites”.

No dice. The revised draft passed up the opportunity to narrow the scope of its disaster readiness requirements. It can still be read as applying to wireless Internet service providers (WISPs), at least under certain circumstances, and maybe always.

CPUC “wireless resiliency” plan targets mobile carriers, doesn’t exempt WISPs

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cpuc fire threat map 11jun2020

Click for the interactive fire threat map.

Mobile carriers – AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile – will have to install emergency generators at their cell sites in high fire danger areas, if the California Public Utilities Commission approves a draft decision offered last week by president Marybel Batjer. They’ll also have to meet other requirements intended to insure “wireless resiliency” during emergencies, natural or man-made, including public safety power shut-offs.

The proposed rules would apply to “facilities-based wireless providers” and require them “to maintain a minimum level of service and coverage to provide access to 911, 211, to receive emergency notifications, and access web browsing for emergency notices”.

As it’s commonly used in the industry, and by the CPUC when it refers to “broadband providers”, “facility-based” is a term that includes fixed wireless Internet service providers (WISPs). The hundred-plus page draft doesn’t explicitly limit its definition of facilities-based wireless providers to mobile carriers, although the context clearly does. There’s no mention of WISPs and the legalese leans heavily on the CPUC’s authority over telephone service, even to the point of anachronistically asserting “the public has an expectation that they will hear a dial tone on their wireless device”.

On the other hand, if the intent was to apply the rules specifically to mobile carriers – a jurisdictionally fraught notion – it would have been relatively simple to do so. Instead, the draft cites the CPUC’s role in regulating 911 services (which can be delivered via mobile and VoIP technology), issuing licenses – certificates of public convenience and necessity (CPCNs) – to telecoms companies of all kinds, and its “broad jurisdiction” over “other communications utilities”.

Going forward, it could be argued that a WISP that holds a CPCN or offers VoIP service – or maybe just provides “web browsing for emergency notices” – also must meet wireless resiliency standards. There’s no clear authority for the CPUC to regulate WISPs as such, and it hasn’t done so. The proposed decision pushes further into the grey area, though.

More clarity could be on the way. Senate bill 1058 would extend emergency service obligations to “every Internet service provider” in California. We’ll know later this week whether Californian legislative leaders deem it worthy of consideration by the full senate. And the CPUC is just getting started. The proposed wireless resiliency order says a future commission decision “will consider promulgating resiliency requirements for other telecommunications providers”.

Wireless resiliency, according to the draft, means…

The ability to recover from or adjust to adversity or change through an array of strategies including, but not limited to: backup power, redundancy, network hardening, temporary facilities, communication and coordination with other utilities, emergency responders, the public and finally, preparedness planning.

Specifically, wireless providers would have to install back-up power capable of keeping their networks up for at least 72 hours, but only in the parts of their service areas that are classified as “tier 2 and tier 3 high fire threat districts”. As the CPUC’s interactive map shows, that includes most of the California coast, the Sierra Nevada, the Cascades and large swaths of the southland.

All wireless providers, not just those in high fire threat areas, would have to file resiliency plans “that detail their ability to maintain a minimum level of service and coverage during a disaster or a commercial power grid outage”, as well as “annual emergency operations plans”.

The commission could vote on the proposed rules as soon as mid-July. In the meantime, it’ll be accepting public comments on the draft.

Proposed Decision of Commissioner Batjer Adopting Wireless Provider Resiliency Strategies, 11 June 2020

TURN for the better, but not the worse among CASF hopefuls

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

The Utility Reform Network (TURN) likes the idea of making California Advanced Services Fund subsidies available to more than just traditional telephone companies. But not to just anyone, saying “TURN shares the Commission’s concerns…that ratepayer money used to fund the CASF program must be protected from waste, fraud and abuse.”

The Commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) echoed those concerns, calling for safeguards if CASF eligibility is expanded.

TURN’s answer is to apply the standards set by the CPUC three years ago when it gave CASF matching grants to successful applicants funded by the federal stimulus program (ARRA). It was done under a special exemption granted by the California Legislature.

The CPUC’s solution at the time was simple. All CASF applicants would meet the same qualifications and pass the same background check that traditional telephone companies have to endure when they apply for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN).

The existing CPCN application process requires the applicant to demonstrate its financial, technical and managerial competence by submitting information such as the company’s balance sheets proving its liquidity and biographical information on its management team demonstrating sufficient management experience and expertise to operate as a telecommunications provider. The applicant is also required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)…CPCN applicants are also required to submit information relative to background considerations on the business, its principal owners, and managers to enable the Commission to conduct a background check.

The Commission also required applicants to post a performance bond, submit to financial audits as needed and generally follow CPUC rules, particularly ethics requirements.

Half a dozen ARRA projects were eventually funded in part by CASF, with and without CPCNs. Based on the CPUC’s latest report, none of those have been completed. So there’s no definitive track record to point to yet. But there’s no reason to think they’re doing any worse than traditional telephone companies or that they won’t be able to keep to the schedules established by ARRA.

Digital 395 is one of those projects, and they weren’t able to even begin construction until this past summer because of the challenge of meeting the (sometimes conflicting) regulatory requirements imposed by twenty three separate agencies. Not least of which is CEQA compliance, which is integral to the CASF program. They’re still on track to finish by next summer’s deadline.

Traditional telephone companies are not the only game in town. Many private companies and public agencies are equally solvent, competent and experienced. On the other hand, many are not and the Commission has the tools in hand to weed them out.

TURN is absolutely right to conclude that “a reasonable, rigorous process can in fact deliver results and lead to enhanced availability of broadband.”

Performance, not passion, builds broadband projects

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Most of the opening and reply comments about expanding eligibility for California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) subsidies, my own included, can be summed up in three words: gimme, gimme, gimme.

Grant writers want to write grants, public agencies want to back fill budgets, independent ISPs want to play like the big boys and the big boys – telephone and cable companies – want to keep it for themselves. No surprise.

The road to broadband is paved with competence. Good intentions lead somewhere else.

Two organizations, though, pretty much make their living commenting on CPUC proposals: the Commission’s own Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) and The Utility Reform Network (TURN). Both filed opening and reply comments, and although they came to opposite conclusions, their concerns were remarkably similar.

DRA opposes expanding eligibility for CASF grants and loans. They don’t like the idea of lowering the bar that applicants have to clear, “especially since such entities likely have no demonstrated expertise in telecommunications or in building broadband facilities.”

After reading everyone else’s opening comments, they were unimpressed with the focus on general benefits rather than concrete projects, noting “the overall lack of specificity underscores DRA’s cautions about opening up CASF eligibility and concern over these entities’ lack of technical expertise to implement broadband projects.”

It’s a good point, if unfairly broad. CASF exists to fund bad broadband business cases. Paying down the capital cost is only half the battle. It takes skill, creativity and experience just to cover operating costs in problematic areas. Good intentions and positive community vibes are not enough.

Many independent ISPs have that kind of managerial horsepower. The expansion of DSL and cable modem service coupled with the natural advantages of scale the big boys bring to the table have put many out of business. But the survivors are the smart and nimble ones.

It also makes sense to look to publicly owned utilities – municipal electric systems and water districts are two examples – for expertise and resources. With secure finances, existing customers, back office systems, skilled technicians, equipment and right of ways, bona fide publicly owned utilities have the kind of assets that can make a difficult business case achievable.

DRA’s closing advice is to recommend “added oversight and safeguards to help guard against fraud, waste, and abuse of ratepayer funds” if the Commission expands CASF eligibility. TURN has some ideas for accomplishing that. More tomorrow.

Verizon says chill out, only a million California homes have crap Internet

One million homes.

AT&T, Verizon and a posse of community broadband advocates joined the debate over eligibility requirements for California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grants and loans. The advocacy folks want fewer or no restrictions on who can apply for broadband infrastructure construction subsidies. The telcos like the current rules which limit the money to, well, telcos.

Like the cable lobby, the big telcos are most offended by the idea that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) might give money to competing providers in underserved areas, where broadband service doesn’t meet the minimum standard of 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up. In particular, Verizon doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about…

Underserved areas have 1,099,883 households, but only 62,887 of these households do not have broadband available under the 3/1mbps standard.

The 3 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up benchmark Verizon awkwardly cites was declared inadequate by the Commission back in February when it relaunched the CASF program.

AT&T (seconded by Verizon) hyperventilated about the danger local governments pose to honest competition…

Local governments administer rights-of-way in their jurisdiction. If they also are building broadband networks with CASF funds, the potential to discriminate against another provider exists and must be prevented as a condition of receiving funds.

As The Utility Reform Network (TURN) pointed out in its reply to similar comments by the cable lobby

This concern is overblown given that such actions by a governmental entity would be patently illegal. It is significant that CCTA provides no case citations or other evidence to prove its assertion.

Hey, if you can’t trust Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to safeguard the free market, who can you trust?

Two out-of-state organizations – the Rural Broadband Policy Group and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance – joined the California Broadband Policy Network in adding their enthusiasm for open access grant money to the discussion. The national wireless ISP association, WISPA, prepared draft comments, but I haven’t seen any indication yet that those were actually filed.

In addition to TURN, returning commenters included Access Humboldt (in favor of eligibility expansion), a group of small, rural telephone companies, and the CPUC’s own Division of Ratepayer Advocates (both against). Including Tellus Venture Associates, there’s a total of ten reply filings and one draft, although it’s likely that one or more won’t make it into the official record because of various technicalities.

All the first round comments, including the ones that won’t go into the official record, and yesterday’s replies, including WISPA’s draft, can be downloaded here.

Congresswoman Eschoo pushes for more broadband spectrum

Silicon Valley congresswoman Ann Eschoo wants to shake up the way that Washington manages and assigns spectrum. The goal is to free up a total of 500 MHz for wireless communications purposes. Much of that would come from turning over frequencies held by government agencies to public use. But some of it would come, willingly or not, from the private sector.


“We have to make freeing up spectrum a top priority,” she said at Joint Venture Silicon Valley's second annual wireless symposium, held on 2 November 2012 at Marvell Semiconductor Inc. headquarters in Santa Clara. “So many companies and broadcasters think it belongs to them. We know that the airways belong to the American people.”

Eschoo pointed to an FCC decision to move ahead with buying back television channel assignments from broadcasters on a voluntary basis and auctioning it off to wireless carriers. She said it would account for 120 MHz towards the final goal, and raise $25 billion dollars, although some of that would go to broadcasters who gave up their channel assignments.

The FCC has given itself a June 2014 deadline to hold the auctions. There are a lot of different interests to balance in the process. Wireless Internet service providers are worried that unlicensed frequencies will be sold out from underneath them.

Spectrum policy “must be balanced with both licensed and unlicensed spectrum,” Eschoo said, adding that wireless technology generates $50 billion in revenue in the U.S. every year.

Some government agencies are fighting plans to clear them off of some frequencies and turn the bandwidth over to the private sector, preferring instead to work out some way of sharing. But that idea is not very popular with wireless broadband advocates.

Eschoo believes that federal agencies can be more efficient in their use of frequencies, and wants Congress to step in and “scrub” the way the executive branch holds and uses spectrum. The bottom line, she said, is that the airwaves are an engine for job creation.

Hint of daylight for CASF community broadband funding

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,
Pretty much any organization would be eligible for broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) if the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) follows through on a decision made last week and if the California legislature agrees.

Right now, funding is limited to companies that sell telephone lines (very broadly defined) and hold either a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) or are registered wireless telephone carriers.

Cities, independent Internet service providers, non-traditional telecoms ventures, community organizations and others can’t get funding directly. Some, for example ISPs, could apply for CPCN status, although it’s a complicated and costly process. Applicants should have $100,000 in the bank and expect to pay legal fees of $5,000 or more. Others, such as cities, can’t.

The CPUC voted last week to begin the process of changing its rules to allow “any commercial provider of broadband access or any nonprofit entity, including government entities or community anchor institutions that elect to provide facilities based broadband service” to apply for CASF grants and loans. The full text of the commission’s order is here.

When it updated CASF rules earlier this year, the commission rejected requests to broaden the eligibility requirements. This change of direction is the result of lobbying by the California Emerging Technology Fund and a wide range of non-profit and government organizations. It also reflects some frustration at the CPUC with the lack of CASF projects from eligible applicants. Only three projects (an FTTH proposal in the California desert, a DSL project in Mendocino County and a satellite-based service for Monterey County) were submitted in the most recent application round, and more than $150 million in funding authorization is sitting idle.

If it happens, change won’t come quickly and certainly not before the next round of CASF applications are due on 1 February 2013. The first step is to define what the proposed new rules would encompass, which will take anywhere from six weeks to a few months. Then, the commission estimates it’ll take 18 months to get it done, and it might be longer. And CPUC can’t do it on its own: before anything can take effect, the California Legislature needs to pass a law permitting it.

Then the Governor has his say. How long will it take? Ask Linda.

Update: Brown signs SB1161, no new Californian regulations for Internet services

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,
California governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1161, which prevents state agencies, particularly the California Public Utilities Commission, from extending regulations and oversight to “Internet Protocol enabled service”, including specifically VoIP, until at least 2020.

In his signing message, the governor said “this bill encourages the continued growth of these and other innovative services that have become a hallmark of our state.”

The language of the bill is broad, covering any service that “enables an end user to send or receive a communication in existing Internet Protocol format, or any successor Internet Protocol format through a broadband connection, regardless of whether the communication is voice, data, or video.”

The fear or hope, depending on your point of view, is that incumbent telecoms companies will use this loophole to largely escape regulation altogether.