Thursday, January 07, 2016

Cable and telco lobbyists block broadband infrastructure subsidies in California

Cable and telco lobbyists block broadband infrastructure subsidies in California: Frontier is the only major incumbent that’s been willing to play with the CASF program, and now that it’s taking over Verizon’s wireline systems it should be even more enthusiastic. But it’s clear that most would prefer to have CASF die a quick and quiet death. Cable companies won’t touch anything that might entangle them with state regulators. AT&T and Verizon are all about mobile, and aren’t interested in investing in wireline service. Most of all, cable companies and mobile carriers are upset that independent competitors are getting CASF subsidies.

This is the death knell for California's failed -- as measured by its goal to bring advanced telecommunications services to 98 percent of households by last year -- California Advanced Services Fund infrastructure subsidy program operated by the state's Public Utilities Commission.

The proposed legislative hill on which the seven-year-old CASF died would have pushed that goal to 2020 and retained a circa 2001 legacy DSL level Internet service standard to define eligible projects as those falling below that standard. In that regard, the CASF was already slowly dying relative to bringing modern telecommunications services to Golden State residents. The legacy incumbents anxious to preserve their de facto market monopolies from the threat of interlopers were only too happy to thrust in the dagger after years of challenging projects proposed for CASF subsidization.

The likely final straw was the PUC's approval last month of subsidies for a relatively large fiber to the premise build proposed to serve nearly 2,000 southern Nevada County premises. That would put FTTP infrastructure built by someone other than themselves squarely in their nominal service territories. Which from the perspective of the incumbent telco and cable companies, posed a dangerous precedent that could have opened the door to even larger builds.

State level telecom state-level infrastructure programs like the CASF are underfunded and technically substandard. They are also very vulnerable to incumbents efforts to hamstring or kill them outright. That circumstance makes the case for a robust federal telecommunications infrastructure initiative to bring fiber optic connections to every American home, business and school. The job is too big and too important to the nation's future to be left to the states.

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