California broadband priorities by the numbers

6 March 2014 by Steve Blum
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It’s hard enough just with apples.

Measuring where broadband needs are and setting priorities for meeting them is an objective, quantitative process for many regional broadband planners in California, while others focus on qualitative assessments. Representatives from fourteen regional broadband consortia met for two days in Sacramento earlier this week, largely to talk about how the California Public Utilities Commission should set priorities for spending subsidy money on broadband infrastructure projects in the state.

There was no single approach presented that works everywhere. What’s needed and important in tightly packed urban Los Angeles communities is different from priorities in the sparse rural expanse of, say, Mono County. But the immediate problem was to find common factors that could be compared on an apples to apples basis, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to do that on the basis of compelling anecdotes or the noise level at community meetings.

So at the end, it was the numbers that mattered most, particularly those that measured the number of people and households that projects would reach, the social impact – poverty levels, household income, public institutions, for example – and the potential for building economically viable broadband systems. Business feasibility metrics included demographic factors, such as population density, physical fundamentals, such as whether or not middle mile backhaul is available, and financial capability.

As the priority-setting process moves into the next round, regional consortia will be gathering statistics for CPUC staff to crunch. We have a head start on that work here on the central coast. The eventual decision is in the hands of the five CPUC commissioners, who will be writing new rules and, perhaps, priorities for the California Advanced Services Fund broadband infrastructure subsidy program in the May – July time frame.