CPUC fast tracks nine broadband infrastructure grants in southern California

18 November 2020 by Steve Blum
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Mobile home park

Broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) were approved on a fast track basis earlier this month for nine projects submitted by Charter Communications. The letter informing Charter of its good fortune is dated on 3 November 2020, but wasn’t released by the California Public Utilities Commission until yesterday.

Combined with the tentative approval of six projects announced on Friday, that means that $32 million has been earmarked for 15 CASF grant applications submitted this year, leaving 39 projects totalling $364 million to chase the $163 million that I roughly estimate is remaining in the fund.

Charter’s approved grants total $8.7 million for 1,833 homes in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. All will be hybrid fiber-coax systems – no full fiber to the home builds are proposed. The company submitted 16 CASF grant applications in May, so seven are still pending. Assuming no further surprises, Charter’s seven remaining grant applications and the 32 others won’t be acted on until well into next year.

The approval of Charter’s nine projects is a welcome a milestone in the CASF program. It’s the first time that the “ministerial” approval process for CASF broadband infrastructure grant was used. It’s a fast track for projects that meet particular specs

The Commission delegates to Communications Division Staff the authority to approve applications, including the determination of funding, that meet the following criteria:

  • Applicant meets the program eligibility requirements.
  • The application is not challenged, or Staff has determined the project area is unserved.
  • The grant does not exceed $10,000,000.
  • The project is California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exempt.
  • There must be no competing applications for the same project area.
  • Cost per household for projects building wireline connections are $9,300 per household or less.

Charter’s special rate for low income households doesn’t meet the CPUC’s standard of $15 per month. According to the approval letter, Charter offers low income customers 30 Mbps download/4 Mbps upload speeds for $18 a month. That’s true as far as it goes, but there’s a gotcha that isn’t mentioned: WiFi capability costs another $5 a month. Which means that Charter’s low income plan costs $23 a month if it’s going to be useful for the vast majority of users. Most people don’t have ethernet routers or WiFi bridges of their own.