Broadband is both a utility service and essential, according to a decision last week by the California Public Utilities Commission. A framework for analysing the affordability of utility services in the aggregate – the total monthly cost of energy, water and telecoms – was approved in a unanimous vote. The methodology sums the cost of the “essential service quantity” of all utilities and compares it a household’s ability to pay it, given all the other expenses – rent, for example – that have to be met, too.
Whether or not broadband is defined as a utility by law – cable companies, particularly, have paid millions of dollars to lawmakers to avoid that – is irrelevant. It’s a monthly expense for a service that meets the dictionary definition of utility.
Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen, who authored the decision, explained to his colleagues before the vote…
Essential utility services include gas, electricity, water, and telecommunications. Part of telecommunications must be good quality Internet service. Not just any connection, but high quality Internet service. The covid crisis definitely underscores that as never before.
But what is the “essential service quantity” of broadband? The commission’s decision says it’s 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds, which is just a bit faster than originally recommended by staff, before the covid–19 emergency hit. Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves said those speeds don’t cut it now…
The proceeding really reflects the pre-covid high speed necessity on communications, on broadband in particular – 25 down and 3 up. In my household, I can tell you, when the kids are in Zoom school and my husband and I are working at home, we have four devices on the Internet. And 25/3 is insufficient. If we are zooming, it’s insufficient. Obviously, we’re going to need to update this, as the decision says, we’re going to be updating this, but with covid I really just want to highlight that the basic need, even 25/3, from my own, anecdotal, household, is a greater need.
Rechtschaffen promised that the methodology and the data being crunched will be kept current. There’s no intention of it being static“, he said. ”We’ll definitely be updating it".