RCRC Commentary: Empower Local Communities to Close the Digital Divide

Greg Norton President and CEO of Rural County Representatives of California.

The deployment of broadband infrastructure supporting speed-of-commerce connectivity is among the most critical missing components needed to drive economic development in California’s rural communities. Broadband access is essential to connecting rural communities to the 21st century economy. Yet the barriers to deploying infrastructure continue to inhibit access in some of California’s most disadvantaged communities in both rural and urban areas.

The Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) represents 36 of California’s 58 counties, covering approximately 56 percent of the state’s land mass. It is estimated that merely 47 percent of California’s rural households within this population area have access to high-speed broadband.

I recently had the opportunity to speak about this crisis on a panel before the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) titled “The Imperative of Digital Inclusion.” In their 2016-17 Annual Report, CETF identified internet access as a “21st Century Civil Right,” and the internet is now firmly established as an operational epicenter for business, government, education, information, and basic services.

Access to broadband provides multiple economic and social benefits to rural residents by allowing access to vital government services and resources. Broadband contributes to job creation, economic growth and business investment improves access to critical healthcare services, and expands access to educational resources and opportunities. Broadband access for farmers and ranchers would allow for improved stewardship of our natural resources through the use of technology to monitor and measure water and soil conditions and usage.

Local governments have joined forces in advocating for the acceleration of broadband deployment in California’s rural communities, and have outlined a number of key provisions. First, the technology deployed must be an appropriate fit for the area — high-speed fiber connections are imperative. Second, we must look to rural electrification as a model, and fund local municipalities to develop the infrastructure, and provide the services. Lastly, local governments should be empowered to step up as lead partners with the federal government to formulate and execute upon strategies that achieve broad-based access to high-speed services.

When high-speed connectivity is unavailable, too slow, or too expensive, it has a significant impact on the economic success and quality of life in these communities. As a result of the digital divide, rural communities are suffering, and struggle to tap basic resources including educational opportunities, medical care, economic and trade opportunities, and vital government services, including public safety.

We’re aware of the challenges involved in deploying adequate capacity across the broadband infrastructure in California’s rural communities. Rugged terrain, remote locations, and sparse populations are all factors that lead to increased deployment and maintenance costs. However, these challenges must be addressed in order to provide this fundamental socio-economic tool and resource to the residents within these communities. While technological advances such as 5G are beneficial to the overall industry, this type of innovation only serves to create a greater chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Priority should be focused on an equitable deployment of appropriate level services throughout the state, not on the next big thing for the fortunate few.

Community-driven broadband partnerships offer a solution. We can quickly resolve this problem by including local communities in the process of choosing the appropriate means to deliver the requisite broadband to ensure quality of life, business growth, and household capital formation. In partnership with the federal government, communities can choose the approach to delivering broadband best suited to their specific needs. Options could include innovative public-private partnerships, other government financing, or through the enforced requirement of leveraging infrastructure investments made with federal dollars by incumbent providers. The Federal Communications Commission has deployed and earmarked enormous amounts of capital to closing the urban-rural divide that exists with access to broadband. Despite these massive influxes of capital, too many rural communities remain without access.

It is imperative that ubiquitous middle-mile fiber optic cable technology is provided at the speed of commerce to allow small to medium-sized businesses to compete in the digital global marketplace, and attract economic development opportunities to California’s rural communities. Although we have made advancements in expanding broadband, there is more to do to ensure that universal access to broadband services is realized for all rural residents. Now is the time — we must allow local communities to develop high-speed solutions that fit their rural communities’ broadband infrastructure needs. Broadband is fundamentally necessary to a community’s economic health, quality of life, and opportunity at prosperity.

The source is HERE.

Comment:

The Federal funding to improve rural access to broadband is the Connect America II Fund, which is a 10-year program.  The telco 5G build-out is expected to take at least a decade. If the LEO satellite programs from SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb, LeoSat, and Telesat are successful, space-based broadband will become available in 2021 which is only two years away. By 2024 there will be multiple broadband satellite companies competing for rural communities business. These companies are planning to provide 4G and 5G backhaul services at a lower cost than fiber, which has to deal with “rugged terrain, remote locations, and sparse populations.”  One of the obstacles to satellite broadband is the current CPUC and CETF policies which discriminate against satellite services. These are policies that were put in place due to the low speeds, long latency and high cost of geo-satellite broadband services.  LEO satellites latency is on par with cable networks and shared fiber services, and current speeds are equal to cable internet and on long distances exceed fiber speeds.  These policies need to be revisited and adjusted to match future broadband services. More in this issue in future posts.

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CPUC to Hold Public Workshop on Expanding Access to Broadband

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), as part of its implementation of The Internet for All Now Act, will hold a workshop to consult with local governments, broadband providers, consumers, and other stakeholders on cost-effective strategies for expanding broadband access in unserved areas of the state. The CPUC welcomes attendance at this public workshop.

WHAT: Workshop on Expanding Access to Broadband
WHEN: Monday, April 29, 2019, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
WHERE:
• . California Lottery Headquarters, 700 North 10th Street, Sacramento, CA, 95811
• . Also available via webcast at www.adminmonitor.com/ca/cpuc
•    Remote participants may email questions during the workshop to:
CASF_Application_Questions@cpuc.ca.gov

Full Press Release is HERE:

 

California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Workshop

CALIFORNIA ADVANCED SERVICES FUND PUBLIC WORKSHOP – SACRAMENTO, CA – APRIL 29, 2019

Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves and staff from the California Public Utilities Commission invite you to a public workshop in Sacramento on April 29, 2019. This workshop is a chance for the Commission to consult with regional consortia,  stakeholders, local governments, the federal government, existing facility-based broadband providers, and consumers regarding unserved areas of the state and cost-effective strategies for expanding access to broadband. 

  

Preliminary details of the workshop are included in the attached agenda and information sheet. Please direct questions to
Caleb Jones ((415) 703-1628/caleb.jones@cpuc.ca.gov ) or Phil Enis ((415) 703-4112/phillip.enis@cpuc.ca.gov).
 

Fact Sheet

Reports and Audits

Data, Maps & Tools

Program Description and Application Instructions

The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is allocated to four CASF accounts and a pilot program:

Funding

The CASF is funded by a surcharge rate on revenues collected by telecommunications carriers from end-users for intrastate telecommunications services.

Contact Information

Questions about this program should be directed to:

  • Adoption, Consortia and Public Housing Accounts – Selena Huang (415) 703-5247 xsh@cpuc.ca.gov
  • Infrastructure Account and Line Extension Program – Tom Glegola (415) 703-2438 tjg@cpuc.ca.gov

Can You Hear Me Now? In Quest for Federal Money, States Debunk Providers’ Coverage Claims

Cellphone companies often boast about how much of the country they cover. But with billions of federal dollars at stake to expand mobile broadband in rural America, state officials and other groups across 37 states say those claims aren’t always true.

The challenge is proving the carriers wrong.

In Vermont, that meant sending out a guy in a gray Toyota Prius to imitate the ubiquitous “can you hear me now?” question as he motored among small towns and dairy farms in search of a signal. Other states took similar steps, and their concerns have caught the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which has begun investigating the accuracy of the carriers’ claims.

The FCC got on to the question last year after it offered $4.5 billion through its Mobility Fund II reverse auction, meant to advance high-speed mobile broadband service in needy rural areas over the next decade. To determine which areas would be eligible for funding, the FCC required mobile providers to submit data showing where they provide 4G LTE coverage with download speeds of 5 megabits per second.

According to the carriers, several rural states, including Kansas and most of Vermont, New Hampshire and Mississippi, already had high-speed mobile broadband and didn’t need the FCC’s money.

Vermont begged to differ.

“When we first looked at the confidential coverage maps we called the FCC staff and said, ‘These maps are wrong,’” recalled Corey Chase, telecommunications infrastructure specialist with the Vermont Department of Public Service.

“The FCC said, ‘Well, if you don’t think they’re accurate, it would behoove you to do a challenge,’” he recalled. “It puts the onus on us.”

So, the department sent Chase on the road to challenge the carriers’ maps. With six phones in his passenger side seat running tests, and a seventh used as a map, Chase covered the Green Mountain State’s forested and at times rocky terrain to gather the data that would provide a foundation for an accurate statewide mobile broadband map.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

The CPUC has a mobile coverage data collection plan call CalSPEED. More Details HERE.

 

If Broadband is Essential Infrastructure it Should be in the General Plan

In California, the General Plan is a document providing a long-range plan for a city’s and county’s physical development. Local jurisdictions have freedom as to what their general plans include, however, there are specific requirements under California state law that each general plan must meet; failure to do so could result in suspension of future development.

Each general plan must include the vision, goals, and objectives of the city or county in terms of planning and development within eight different “elements” defined by the state as: land use, housing, circulation, conservation, noise, safety, open space, and environmental justice which was added as an official element in 2016.

To assist cities and counties to develop and refine their planning document the Governor’s Office and Planning Research published some guidelines in August of 2017.  These charts capture the essence of that guidance.

Screenshot 2019-01-31 21.09.54

Screenshot 2019-01-31 21.10

Please note that broadband is not mentioned in either graphic, yet broadband has a significant relationship to land use, circulation, housing, conservation, and social justice.

Broadband is mention in the General Planning Guidelines three places:

Chapter 4, Required Elements, Page 81, broadband as a “relevant utility.”

Chapter 4, Page 82 Broadband:

“Both state and federal governments are implementing various funding programs that serve the goal of expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas. Within California, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) manages the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which invests hundreds of millions of dollars annually in broadband deployment. The state also created the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), which was designed to be a public-purpose venture capital fund.”

Dig once policies can substantially reduce costs for providing broadband service to communities. A new provider can run ber through leased conduit space at a fraction of the costs, incentivizing more private actors to deploy or reducing costs to the city if self-provisioning broadband services. For example, if conduit construction was promoted along ongoing civil work projects, fiber deployment costs drop by $30,000- $100,000 per mile. On average, 60 to 90 percent of network deployment costs come from civil works as opposed to equipment and maintenance.

Chapter 6, page 211:

In addition, general plan policies may improve access to health services through integrated public transportation and provisions for access to broadband, allowing for telemedicine capacity. 

If California planners were serious about the benefits of every home and businesses having broadband access, they would provide General Planning Guidance beyond dig once.

According to a recent Brookings Metro Policy Paper in less than two decades broadband access has become one of the foundations of the American Economy, joining water, sewer, power, transportation, and energy as essential infrastructure.

If broadband is essential infrastructure, and a “relevant utility”, it should be included in the general planning requirements:

Land Use:  Reduce the cost of installing fixed and mobile wireless antennas, including G5 mini towers.  See Nevada County Land Use, Communications for WiFi example.

Circulation: Use of broadband reduces the need to travel, enables work from home, promoter online shopping all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to a California, Emerging Technology Funds report Broadband as Green Strategy, access to broadband reduces vehicle miles traveled, office-space construction, energy use, while increasing online shopping, all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 billion tons over ten years,

Housing:  All new development should include broadband networks, especially in multi-family housing in low-income neighborhoods, where adoption is hindered by high-cost access.

Conservation:  Broadband reduces the consumption of natural resources. See Circulation.

Environmental Justice: Broadband internet improves access to health care, education, and employment. Broadband opens the doors to entrepreneurship by individual and small groups, especially in rural communities creating community wealth.

Also missing from the Governor’s Office and Planning Research planning guidelines issued in August 2017 are topics and elements related to economic development. An issue worthy of a future post. 

Your thoughts? Should Broadband be given more attention in General Planning?

Volunteers Being Sought for Home Internet Study

CED Newsletter

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Geographical Information Center (GIC) at California State University, Chico and CSU, Monterey Bay are seeking 500 volunteers to take part in the CPUC Home Internet Study. The study aims to explore and analyze the Californian’s internet connections including:
* Performance of connections in rural areas, compared with connections in urban areas.
* Performance of DSL connections, compared with Cable connections.
* WiFi Router technologies in use in the California WiFi landscape.
* Performance of Ethernet (wired) connections vs. WiFi connections.

For additional information about the project, or to sign up, visit www.calspeed.net

I was a volunteer member of the beta test team for the CalSpeed data collection box. The box arrived in the mall, and I connected it to my internet router with a Gigahertz connection from Wave Broadband.

When Initially installed, before the beta test started,  the Wave 1Gig modem interface device’s speed ranged from 700 to 850 Mbps using my desktop Mac with Speedtest.com Speed checks were take at random times during the day. Good to go for the beta test.

IMG_1248
Photo of beta test box

 

During the beta test, we were on vacation for two weeks in Seattle. While we were gone, PG&E change our electric meter. They cut off the power to the house while making the change. For some reason, the router quit working as did my drip irrigation system. I rebooted the router upon returning home and data collection restarted. After the reboot, I did a speed test on the Mac using SpeedTest.com and Wave’s Speed Test ranged between 300 Mbps and 500 Mbps.  Not the Wave promised 1000 Mbps!

These speeds are consistent with the overall averages collected by the CalSpeed data collection box. As you can see from the recorded data, my average was about 400 Mbps on ethernet and about 160 Mbps on WiFi.

Screenshot 2019-02-01 12.49.28
Screenshot of collected data from the beta test box on the CalSpeed webpage

The Wave network modem had built-in WiFi signals, one in the 2.4 GHz band and one in the 5.3 GHz band. It was not clear to me which band the CalSpeed box was monitoring, and I failed to ask.

I returned the beta test box to the development team, but I continue to monitor the Wave broadband signal with my DIY recorder box. Following the beta test, I downgraded my Wave connection to 250 Mbps Service, as my DIY box is limited to about 300 Mbps due to the circuit limitation on the Raspberry Pi processor board.

Raspberry Pi BB Recorder

Given all the marketing hype about broadband internet access speeds, the only valid method of determining the real speeds is field testing. Going out to the specific location and measuring the speed of the bits coming out of the ethernet port. So far, I am not getting what I am paying for, and there is a high probability that most users are not experiencing their ISPs advertised level of service.

Here is an example output:

Wave Tri Display

CPUC Revises Broadband Infrastructure Grant Rules To Increase Deployment Throughout California

SAN FRANCISCO, December 13, 2018 – The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), in its commitment to bridging the digital divide, today revised the rules for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Infrastructure Grant Account to increase broadband deployment in low income and unserved parts of the state.

Full Document is available under the Government Tab above.