Telcos, cable use bad data to hogtie California broadband plan

Pure pork night 625

It’s just an outline with more questions than answers now, but the broadband plan commissioned by California governor Gavin Newsom is beginning to take shape. A draft outline is posted on the California Broadband Council’s (CBC) website. It identifies the central problem that has challenged many Californians during the covid–19 emergency – lack of reliable, fast broadband service they can afford or, indeed, sometimes at any price – but doesn’t yet focus on specific solutions. With the governor’s deadline less than two months away, a Zoom meeting is set for later today to try to work towards those answers.

There are no surprises in the issues identified in the draft. Many revolve around the same root cause: a lack of information, particularly from California’s largest service providers. “Address-level broadband service data”, “actual download and upload usages” and “maps of existing, readily accessible middle-mile broadband infrastructure, indicating census blocks with no fiber middle mile interconnection built out” are among the black holes that need to be filled.

Some of that information is available from fragmented sources, but on the whole incumbents rabidly guard their network and service data. They make claims of confidentiality, citing a need to protect their ability to compete in the marketplace. Which might make sense if there was a competitive marketplace for broadband in California. But there isn’t.

Telcos, particularly AT&T and Frontier Communications, maintain a monopoly grip on rural communities, where they provide bad service at high prices over decaying copper networks, and where they intend to prevent customers from getting sufficient broadband service for generations to come by using public subsidy money to install low capacity, low reliability wireless systems.

In urban areas, telcos and cables companies have a cosy duopoly, granted over the years by local, state and federal agencies. Duopolies are little different from monopolies – the math is more complicated, but the result is the same: they can extract monopoly rents from consumers who have no other choice.

To produce a feasible and credible broadband action plan, the CBC needs to break out of the Sacramento propaganda bubble created by those incumbents and the lobbying fronts, sock puppets and lawmakers they pay millions of dollars to carry their message. Otherwise, the plan will meet the same fate as attempts earlier this year to bring 21st century broadband service to all Californians.

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