Subsidising second class broadband is a bad deal for all Californians

11 December 2014 by Steve Blum
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Hotel WiFi service is usually good enough to deal with email, Facebook and airline check-ins. It’ll do the work you have to get done before morning – maybe even a Skype call. But it’s rarely robust enough to reliably watch videos or jam a deadline on virtualised enterprise services or relax with an online game. It’s not a workhorse you can depend on. It’s an amenity, no more able to support day to day business than the tiny pool and token workout room can handle Ironman base training – I know, I tried.

So why is that level of service good enough for people who live in publicly subsidised housing, when it isn’t acceptable for the taxpayers who are footing the bill? The California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) didn’t think so, in its response to a proposed broadband facilities grant program under consideration at the California Public Utilities Commission. The CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates (ORA) doesn’t think so either, in comments filed earlier this week.

It’s not.

The performance fixes proposed by CETF and ORA are half measures at best. Raising the required upload speed (albeit with slower and cheaper options) to the same 1.5 Mbps standard the CPUC sets as a minimum for everyone else in California is a fine idea. But 6 Mbps – the CPUC’s download minimum – is barely table stakes for people trying to make a living or navigate government bureaucracy or for kids doing doing home work.

The proposal in front of the CPUC now sets 1.5 Mbps down as the minimum subsidised service level (although network capacity minimums are higher), and CETF isn’t contesting it. ORA is pushing for 3 Mbps. Better, but still less than the minimum that’s considered good enough for the rest of us. It’s a dumbed-down standard that’ll allow publicly subsidised, hotel-grade WiFi systems to be installed instead of hard wired facilities.

Californians are paying for it. Californians deserve better.