Public housing broadband should be cheaper and faster, CETF says

4 December 2014 by Steve Blum
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How much should Internet access in public housing projects cost, and how fast should it be? Those are the central two questions that the California Emerging Technology Fund is raising in regards to a proposed public housing broadband subsidy program, currently under consideration at the California Public Utilities Commission.

In comments filed on Tuesday, CETF is taking the position that public housing residents should be able to buy a minimum level of service for $10 per month, rather than the $20 as currently proposed, and that the minimum service speed residents can get during peak hours – 7 to 11 p.m. – should be 1.5 Mbps for both download and upload…

CETF agrees with the majority of the housing agencies that participated in the CPUC Housing Workshops earlier this year and suggests that service fees of up to $10 a month is more in line with the economic realities and affordability limits of the residents…When participants were asked for a reasonable affordable rate for residents of publicly-subsidized housing, there was general agreement that low-income residents would be able to afford a high-speed Internet service at home of up to $10 a month. That is also the current monthly cost of Comcast Essentials…

The plan now in front of the CPUC sets 1.5 Mbps as the minimum for peak period downloads, but sets no service minimum for upload speed, although subsidised systems must be capable of delivering the CPUC’s minimum of 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up.

The Comcast Internet Essentials program – in theory – offers 5 Mbps down/1 Mbps up for $10 per month to households that have at least one child eligible for a subsidised lunch program at school. The program has rightly been slammed for being a sham. Comcast makes it difficult for people to sign up, and then does what it can to move them to higher priced service. But the service itself has never been particularly criticised – 5 Mbps is easily within the capabilities of Comcast’s network.

If public housing projects actually get wire then capacity isn’t a problem and minimum service levels are largely a function of how much backhaul bandwidth is purchased. Service minimums should be set using wired cost and performance standards, not dumbed down to accommodate quick and dirty WiFi installations.