Spend broadband subsidies on state of the art service, CPUC report says

27 December 2014 by Steve Blum
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Don’t subsidise old, slow broadband technology. That’s one of the conclusions of an analysis of mobile broadband performance done for the California Public Utilities Commission (H/T to Jim Warner for the pointer).

Right now, the CPUC’s minimum service availability mark is 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up – if a community gets less than that, it’s eligible for broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund. Conversely though, to get those subsidies, broadband projects only have to meet that level of service – the minimum is good enough.

After running millions of field tests at thousands locations around California, the CPUC’s study concludes that mobile carriers can do better if they try, and if they don’t, they should get CASF money…

The speed of deployment in mobile broadband service can support a new benchmark standard of 10 Mbps down and 4 Mbps up based on the deployed capabilities of modern LTE networks. When subsidizing mobile deployment, it would certainly be prudent to require deployment at speeds of at least 10 Mbps down/4 Mbps up, properly configured to be able to provide VoLTE and other real-time streaming services.

The FCC has met the science halfway: its new standard is 10 Mbps down, although up remains at a sluggish 1 Mbps.

The CPUC is developing a test that can make similar measurements of wireline service. That’s harder than assessing mobile carriers’ performance, which can be measured by simply driving around the state. Getting real world stats for wireline service means either installing measurement gear inside people’s houses – as the FCC does – or getting them to run tests themselves.

If comparable data for wireline network performance becomes available and it likewise shows there’s no technological reason new infrastructure can’t meet a higher standard, expect a move to raise the broadband bar overall for Californians.