Satellite companies barred from California broadband subsidies

20 January 2014 by Steve Blum
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Update: Pay no attention to the post below. It’s absolutely wrong. Please see my correction:

I got that completely wrong: satellite is allowed with a lower service hurdle by new Californian subsidy rules


Shot out of orbit.

Satellite Internet service providers won’t be able to get subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), if the California Public Utilities Commission approves language buried deep in a draft of new rules governing the program.

I make no excuses: I missed it the first time I read through the draft decision written by commission president Michael Peevey and circulated for public comment earlier this month. On page 46 of the 103 page document, you can find…

The Commission will consider applications from satellite service providers provided that the applicants, are able to prove functionality, and are able to meet the speeds required.

What it means is that Peevey proposes to delete language from current CPUC rules that allow satellite companies to apply for CASF grants and loans to build broadband infrastructure. One such – ViaSat – asked for $11 million last year to pay for satellite dishes and receivers for a vast swath of western California.

I’ve already stated my case for why ViaSat’s specific proposal is a bad idea from a public policy perspective, given current CASF rules. There’ s a case to be made that some homes are never going to be reached by wireline or credible wireless service and some kind of allowance for satellite service ought to be made. But since the commission approved $1.8 million for fiber-to-the-vacation-shack service in Madera County last month, you can never say never.

Taking satellite providers off the CASF eligibility list is a rational step in the right direction. The goal should be fast, twenty-first century broadband service that isn’t subject to stingy and horrendously expensive data caps, for all Californians. The CPUC has a chance to make it right when it votes on the proposed change, currently scheduled for 5 February 2014. Public comments are being accepted, due on 27 January.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted with several CASF proposals in the current round, including some that are impacted by ViaSat’s proposal. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.