Symmetrical 25 Mbps broadband standard back on track in California assembly

30 July 2020 by Steve Blum
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Fiber patch panel sab photo 625

Funding for fast, reliable broadband service for all Californians gets a hearing on Monday in the California assembly. Senate bill 1130 was supposed to heard by the communications and conveyances committee this week, but was delayed by a political turf war between assembly and senate leadership.

SB 1130 pegs symmetrical 25 Mbps download/25 Mbps upload speeds as California’s residential broadband standard. It’s not a promise of full fiber-based service, but it’s close. Light years closer than the ridiculous 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps minimum that California suffers from now, and that a rival measure pushed by cable and telephone companies would bake into law.

An area that lacks broadband service of at least 25Mbps down/25 Mbps up would be eligible for California Advanced Service Fund grants. Any infrastructure that’s built with CASF subsidies has to be capable of delivering that level of service or better to homes and businesses.

It’s a significant improvement from the version of SB 1130 that was approved by the California senate. Language was deleted that merely encouraged grant recipients to build systems that can deliver a minimum of 100 Mbps down/100 Mbps up – fiber to the premise networks, in other words. More importantly, a hard 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up construction standard is also gone. It would have allowed telcos to spend CASF money on patching decaying, 1990s style DSL systems.

In theory, cable companies can meet the 25 Mbps down/25 Mbps up standard with current DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which is already widely deployed (and often insufficiently provisioned) in California. Otherwise, CASF-subsidised infrastructure will necessarily be all fiber, or nearly so. Wireless networks can deliver symmetrical 25 Mbps service, but only reliably to a relative handful of customers in any given area. AT&T, Frontier Communications and the resellers – competitive local exchange carriers – that lease facilities from them can juice up copper lines for a (high paying) customer here and there, but not on a mass consumer market basis.

Any middle mile networks built with CASF grants would have to be made available to all comers on an open access, wholesale basis. At least to an extent. The California Public Utilities Commission would be able to limit the open access obligation, if not eliminate it completely, if it is deemed unnecessary or if impedes a company’s ability to “recover [its] investment costs”.

Thanks to the covid–19 emergency, the public can participate in legislative committee hearings remotely. If you want to add your voice to the debate, the call in number will be posted on the communications and conveyances committee’s webpage just before Monday’s 11:00 a.m. hearing. A second broadband-related bill – SB 431 – is on the agenda. It would require mobile carriers to install back up power in high fire threat areas and, among other things, maintain customers’ web browsing capability during power failures.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.