Frontier’s broadband monopoly leaves hundreds of thousands of rural Californians without fiber or choices

2 November 2020 by Steve Blum
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Cpuc map frontier broadband gaps

The California Public Utilities Commission took another run at the numbers and the conclusion is the same: 69,000 low income Californian households live in places where the only wireline telecommunications company is Frontier Communications, which is their sole source for wired broadband service only if Frontier considers it profitable enough to offer it in the first place.

An updated report – a “collection of facts” as the CPUC calls it – was prepared by staff as part of the commission’s review of Frontier’s bankruptcy settlement. Some of the numbers changed slightly and there were some clarifications and corrections made. The estimate of the total number of low income households in Frontier’s service territory went down, but the number of very low income households – those making less than $25,000 a year – went up a bit.

The report may serve as a neutral source of data as the adversarial process that sets Frontier against advocacy groups of one sort or another and its primary labor union continues. The CPUC administrative law judge managing the case cancelled evidentiary hearings because of the squabbling amongst the parties and will, at least for now, rely on written submissions.

One of the “intervenors” is the CPUC’s independent public advocates office. It recommends approving the bankruptcy settlement with a long list of conditions, including upgrading broadband service to a minimum of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds and building more fiber capacity, particularly in rural areas, which Frontier has neglected

Frontier’s service territory has an estimated 3,213,667 households, about 23% of the total 13,680,081 households in California. Among the 3,213,667 households, 5% are in rural areas…

Rural and urban areas have different broadband download speeds service available to customers. In 2019, the FCC retained the speed benchmark of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload for fixed broadband services. While the total households in rural areas comprised only 5% of the total households in Frontier’s California service area, those with broadband download speeds lower than 25 Mbps were about 50%, compared to 34% of households in urban areas. In addition, fiber service is more limited in rural areas with 87% of the households in rural areas not having fiber services, compared to 42% of households in urban areas.

Pao ye testimony table11 30sep2020

Percentage of households in rural and urban areas with broadband availability in Frontier’s service territory. Source: PAO testimony.

The CPUC’s review is still on track to finish up, one way or the other, in the first quarter of next year.