CPUC considers whether copper ignorance is broadband bliss

12 May 2015 by Steve Blum
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Hey, our customers are cutting the cord, why can’t we chop the copper?

AT&T and Verizon don’t want the California Public Utilities Commission to launch a study of the condition of their rotting copper line networks, and the new president of the commission, Michael Picker, wants to accommodate them.

In 2013, the commission decided to take a look at the core telephone network infrastructure maintained, or not, by AT&T and Verizon, as part of a review of service standards that telephone companies are expected to meet. So far that review has shown, among other things, that the wireline phone business is on a downward slide, and AT&T and Verizon do a lousy job of keeping their customers connected. But the actual network infrastructure study never got off the ground.

Picker is proposing to spike the infrastructure study for now, and maybe forever, because imposing penalties on the telcos for not meeting a handful of consumer-centric service metrics could fix that very narrow problem.

True enough. But completely inadequate.

Let them eat air time!

Meeting legacy repair, installation and customer service benchmarks were important in the last century and have some relevance in this one, but there are much bigger issues that face both the CPUC and the major incumbent carriers. Top of the list is the decaying state of AT&T’s and Verizon’s copper line networks, particularly in rural areas of California. The unwillingness of the big two to support even first generation DSL-based broadband service in redlined rural areas is a continuing barrier to economic development generally in California, and a defiant obstacle to the CPUC’s ability to meet its responsibility to “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability” to all Californians.

The lack of comprehensive and objective information about network conditions will also be a problem for the CPUC as it considers whether or not to allow Frontier Communications to buy Verizon’s systems in California, which serve 2 million customers.

Under Picker, the CPUC has taken positive steps towards modernising the way it looks at the new realities of 21st century telecoms. But it’s not there yet. Assuming no further delays, at their next meeting next week commissioners will have an opportunity to claim a degree of responsibility for encouraging broadband development in California by approving an otherwise moot denial of the defunct Comcast mega-deal and rejecting the proposed shelving of this wireline infrastructure study. What they do with that opportunity will tell us a lot about who is looking out for whom in California’s broadband world.