Public housing broadband heading for second class status in California

18 December 2014 by Steve Blum
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Lower broadband performance standards for Californians living in public housing are one step away from adoption by the California Public Utilities Commission. As it stands now, later this morning the CPUC will approve subsidy rules for broadband facility upgrades in publicly supported housing that set 1.5 Mbps download speeds as the minimum acceptable level, and no service level requirements at all for upload speeds. The stuff that’s installed has to be capable of supporting higher speeds, but actual performance is optional.

That compares to a minimum standard of 6 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up for the rest of us.

The first draft of the rules with the lower standards were released a month ago. The California Emerging Technology Fund and the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates filed comments urging higher download and upload speeds, as well as cost requirements that were in line with low income broadband programs offered – in theory – by cable companies. Those offers, when you can break through cable’s – particularly’s Comcast’s – customer service hell and actually sign up, deliver 5 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up for $10 per month. The proposal in front of the commission this morning sets $20 as a minimum price, and reaffirms the lower-than-the-rest-of-us performance standards…

At this point, the Commission is not prepared to require applicants who are pursuing the expedited process to provide higher internet speeds because the Commission aims to encourage applicants and to gain broad infrastructure development. Requiring applicants to commit to providing residents with minimum download speeds of 1.5 mbps per unit, during average peak utilization periods, subject to reasonable network management practices is a reasonable floor while also ensuring that applicants are encouraged to apply for the Broadband Public Housing Account grant.

Setting the service fee price cap at $20 a month encourages applicants to provide broadband Internet service at a minimum of 1.5mbps per household during average peak utilization periods while also balancing applicants’ abilities to afford maintaining and operating the networks. Furthermore, the Guidelines have been amended to clarify that residents will be charged no more than $20 per month for Internet service.

The not-so-revised rules – which do, usefully, bump the first application deadline back to 15 January 2015 – are on the CPUC’s consent calendar this morning. Unless one of the commissioners pulls it off – either for discussion today or to hold for a later meeting – it’ll breeze through on a pro-forma vote.

Don’t bet on a delay. Today’s meeting is the last for CPUC president Michael Peevey. There’s a definite air of let’s clear the decks for the next president, whoever governor Jerry Brown appoints to the job.

Update: as expected, the CPUC approved the California Advanced Services Fund public housing broadband program this morning, as proposed. The most up to date version of the decision is here.