Frontier makes the case, California's AB 1665 is double disaster

3 May 2017 by Steve Blum
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Frontier’s admittedly “late-filed” attempt to kill grant funding for the Gigafy Phelan fiber to the home proposal in San Bernardino County does a much better job of demonstrating why assembly bill 1665 is a bad idea than it does of effectively arguing against the project.

In addition to reinstating a tax on phone bills and adding $300 million to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), AB 1665 would lower California’s minimum broadband service standard to 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. It would also give incumbent telephone companies – Frontier and AT&T, primarily – de facto exclusive rights to rural broadband customers, whether or not they offer Internet access that meets the Californian minimum or, indeed, whether they offer broadband service at all. All they have to do is accept federal money from the Connect America Fund (CAF) program to build broadband infrastructure that meets the lower standard they’re pushing, somewhere in the general area.

Frontier is so eager to claim that prize that it cited AB 1665 in its argument against Gigafy Phelan, saying “just last week, the Legislature endorsed [using federal funds] again by amending CASF funding legislation to expressly prohibit award of a CASF grant to overbuild a CAF-funded broadband project”.

The “again” bit is misleading. California law and policy is full of exhortations to tap federal funds. What’s different and dangerous about AB 1665 is that it deliberately fences off large areas from state funded broadband upgrades when infrastructure is installed that doesn’t meet the current five year old Californian standard, even if no federal money is used.

That’s a point that Frontier clearly, if probably inadvertently, makes when it says it’s “currently in construction to expand broadband access by August 2017 to about 5,000 of the 8,361 households this application proposes to serve”. Why only 60% of the homes? Take a look at the map of Phelan above. The areas tinted yellow in checkerboard fashion are where Frontier is taking federal money to do substandard upgrades; there’s no money on offer for the areas in between. Guess where the more than 3,000 homes it’s bypassing are located?

That checkerboard pattern makes it completely impractical for another company to come in and serve people who don’t live where federal money flows, with or without a CASF grant. But Frontier would be completely entitled to double dip CASF money there and use it to offer service that wouldn’t meet basic needs five years ago, let alone today.

If the current version of AB 1665 becomes law.