Pay top dollar for low speed broadband, CPUC told

2 May 2018 by Steve Blum
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The counter punches landed at the California Public Utilities Commission yesterday, as nine organisations filed rebuttals to previous comments about how the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) should be run. The broadband infrastructure subsidy program is undergoing a complete make over, thanks to last year’s assembly bill 1665, which lowered California’s minimum broadband speed standard and turned the fund into a piggy bank for AT&T and Frontier Communications.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s reply, which I drafted and submitted, led off with a correction – I got the math wrong on service level weightings. We recommended using the Federal Communications Commission’s discounting criteria, which is based on download/upload speeds and latency, for determining how much of a project is subsidised. The corrected table is below.

That proposal drew fire from AT&T. It wants full funding for low speed, 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up wireless service, claiming it “provides capabilities that are more than sufficient to meet the broadband needs of a typical household, even with multiple simultaneous users”. Sure. So long as that typical household hasn’t bought a new television recently. Half of U.S. homes will have a 4K set by the end of next year, well before AT&T completes any CASF-subsidised upgrades. Those require at least 15 Mbps of steady service just to watch one 4K program.

Likewise, the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), which sponsored AB 1665 and successfully lobbied governor Jerry Brown to sign it, scoffed at the idea of basing CASF subsidies on infrastructure quality and performance, comparing it to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Thus spoke the iceberg.

CETF and AT&T phrased it differently, but both arguments lead to the same conclusion: lock rural California into slow and unreliable service – insufficient even by today’s standards – for decades to come. That’s not good enough. If service providers get public subsidies, they should build what all Californians need, now and tomorrow.

The full list of CASF-related comments and reply comments is here.