Saturday, February 21, 2009

Don't subsidize slow, outmoded AT&T DSL, groups urge California PUC

One of five AT&T broadband build out projects subsidized with 40 percent matching funds from the California Public Utility Commission's California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) has drawn criticism from community groups in California's North Coast area.

The groups, the Mendocino Coast Broadband Alliance, Redwood Coast Rural Action, Redwood Coast Connect and Humboldt Area Foundation protest the award of $15,200 in CASF funding to AT&T to finance the roll out of DSL technology to serve 97 homes over existing wire line facilities. The groups complain that won't deliver sufficient throughput in the affected areas including Albion, Little River, Caspar, Mendocino, Fort Bragg, Elk and Point Arena. The so-called Comptche project's DSL throughput of up to 1.5 Mbs for downloads and up to 384 Kbs for uploads is too slow, they say, urging the CPUC demand AT&T offer throughputs of 3 Mbs down and 1 Mbs up as originally specified in CASF funding guidelines adopted by the commission in 2007. Moreover, some of the groups say, a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) could provide faster speeds over a shorter timeframe than AT&T's DSL project.

However in its resolution adopted Feb. 20 awarding funding for the project, the CPUC notes it "has no control over what applicants ultimately offer," and that the 3 Mbs download and 1 Mbs upload speeds are guidelines and not firm requirements. "We believe that broadband speeds below 3/1 still offer large benefits to communities that have no broadband service at all and does not hinder the possibility of upgrades by incumbents or competitors," the resolution states.

The unstated cause of the debate: AT&T's aged copper cable plant that cannot support higher throughput as well as the company's reliance on underpowered DSL technology that has very limited range over copper cable due to signal degradation.

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