For broadband subsidies, CPUC says real world performance counts more than mobile carrier claims

23 September 2014 by Steve Blum
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Urban California has far better mobile broadband service than rural areas of the state. That’s one of the conclusions of a study done for the California Public Utilities Commission analysing millions of field tests done at thousands of locations statewide (H/T to Jim Warner for the pointer). The study also shows that getting a true picture of what consumers can expect to experience requires factoring in the unreliability of cellular data systems.

Mobile service counts when the CPUC decides whether a community has an adequate level of broadband service. In other words, whether residents have access to at least one provider that delivers 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. If the answer is no, then that area is eligible for infrastructure construction subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund.

In deciding that, the CPUC will discount mobile carriers’ advertising claims and brief bursts of acceptability, according to a recent FCC filing….

For example, the report shows that wireless broadband service is much more variable than wireline service. Accordingly, the CPUC is wary of using mean throughput as an indicator of the service most customers will experience. The mean is heavily influenced by a relatively few very fast readings. Therefore, in order to determine the actual level of service most consumers experience most of the time, for grant evaluation purposes, the CPUC staff will lower a provider’s tested mean throughput by one standard deviation to determine if that service meets the CPUC’s current CASF benchmark throughput of 6/1.5.

It makes a huge difference. If the CPUC didn’t use real world standards, mobile coverage would be sufficient to lock 98% of Californians out of CASF-subsidised broadband upgrades. Using standards based on what consumers actually get, though, the data shows that more than a third of the population and two-thirds of the mostly rural land area of California are underserved by mobile carriers.