Competition means better broadband for a few rural Californians, CPUC draft says. It should be for everyone

14 July 2020 by Steve Blum
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Digital 395 19sep2013

Faster and higher quality broadband service will reach some rural Californians if cable companies and other “competitive local exchange carriers” (CLECs) are allowed to compete against rural telcos for phone customers, according to a proposed decision under consideration by the California Public Utilities Commission. Cable lobbyists and lawyers have been pushing for permission to pluck profitable customers from highly subsidised rural telcos – Small LECs, in the jargon – leaving taxpayers to pay an even higher tab to serve the rest.

The solution that’s on the table would require cable companies and other CLECs to agree to build out in wider and more inclusive service areas, and serve everyone in them, in exchange for permission to enter Small LEC territories. Authored by commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, the draft concludes…

Competition by CLECs in the Small LECs‘ service territories should promote increased broadband deployment in remote areas and thereby offer rural customers choices in voice and other broadband services that are already offered to their urban counterparts.

Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Communications and other Californian cable operators are not champions of an open market. They aggressively lobby against municipal broadband projects and work constantly to cripple infrastructure subsidy programs, sometimes working on their own, but more often under the guise of their Sacramento front organisation, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, or via friendly (and funded) non-profits like the California Emerging Technology Fund. They’re eager to shift costs onto the public when they gain a competitive advantage, but not when subsidies create competition that benefits taxpayers themselves.

The proposed decision is correct in saying that more competition results in better and, usually, cheaper broadband service. It’s a principle that should be aggressively pursued everywhere in California, and not just in a few affluent exurban developments that suit cable companies’ monopoly business model.