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Charter Communications lost its latest battle to keep free WiFi service out of public housing in California, but the defeat came long after the war ended in victory for cable companies and their lobbying front organisation in Sacramento. It means that 47 publicly subsidised communities, scattered across the state, get to keep grant money they received from the California Advanced Services Fund to install broadband facilities. Most of them had opted for WiFi systems that would offer slow connections at no cost to residents.
In its order denying the appeal, the CPUC pointed out that there’s “evidence that Charter’s service is not affordable”…
In an appeal to Charter’s challenge to Eden Housing’s…grant applications, Eden stated, among other things, that (1) its housing sites are occupied by 100% low income residents, with an average household income of $35,000 and much lower at its senior housing sites. “A large majority of our residents – currently an average 73% — have no access to broadband services because they cannot afford to pay the monthly service fees offered by Comcast and Charter. . . . [T]he monthly fees could cause a severe hardship to a family and, in some cases, a basic need could go unmet to pay the bill…A monthly fee is an obstacle for this group”.
The California Public Utilities Commission denied appeals of two decisions giving the grants – typically less than $50,000 and many much less – to public housing complexes where Charter and its cable brethren offer service at prices beyond what residents are supposed to be able to pay, particularly when bundled with even more costly television packages. It’s a sweet deal for cable companies, which is why Cox Communications chimed in with an amen filing.
It’s also why California Cable and Telecommunications Association prevailed on a simpatico state senator, Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), to slip language into a reauthorisation bill last year that outlawed grants to public housing that’s been blessed with such attention. As a result, the CPUC is scheduled to vote Thursday on new rules that will make its public housing broadband subsidy program equally friendly to California cable companies.