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Calif. Grants $1.77M

CPUC Affirms ACP-Subsidized Service Doesn't Count as Free

California Public Utilities Commission members rejected the state cable association’s bid to reconsider what counts as free broadband service as it doles out public housing grants. Through a unanimous vote on the consent agenda at a webcast Thursday meeting, California commissioners denied a California Broadband and Video Association (CalBroadband) petition. Commissioners later voted 5-0 to approve a $1.77 million grant to South Valley Internet under the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) line extension program.

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The CPUC refused to modify a resolution that gave $1.4 million in CASF broadband public housing account (BPHA) grants to 19 projects. CalBroadband challenged resolution T-17775 not to overturn the award but to contest why the CPUC rejected a challenge by Charter Communications. Charter claimed residents already had access to free service through the affordable connectivity program (ACP), but the CPUC said since “the ACP benefit subsidizes the service for eligible residents who apply for the subsidy, Charter is not offering free service.” CalBroadband disagreed (see 2303220053).

CalBroadband “raises no new or changed facts,” said the amended draft resolution (T-17796) approved by commissioners Thursday. “To the extent CalBroadband raises a new policy argument, a petition for modification is not the proper vehicle to raise it,” it said. “The Commission has consistently held that a petition for modification is not a second bite at the apple: it will not consider issues which are simply re-litigation of issues that it has already considered.” CalBroadband declined to comment now.

The CPUC decision to deny the cable industry petition “is crucial to ensure low-income residents in publicly supported housing developments, including farmworker housing, receive affordable broadband services,” emailed Ashley Salas, The Utility Reform Network telecommunications regulatory and policy attorney. With the petition denied, “multiple grant-funded projects can move forward to serve low-income households with affordable broadband services,” she said.

CalBroadband “tried to frame its argument as a discussion of ISPs’ ‘free’ services,” emailed Center for Accessible Technology Legal Counsel Paul Goodman: But CalBroadband was really asking the CPUC to give its cable members “the ability to prevent communities from building public housing infrastructure, prioritizing profits over low-income communities.”

The CPUC granted $1.77 million to South Valley Internet for 1 Gbps symmetrical internet for 194 unserved houses in three low-income communities in San Benito County, said the CPUC’s draft resolution (T-17792). The fiber last-mile project will connect to existing AT&T middle-mile fiber, it said. The CPUC estimated the project will serve 740 residents, including 130 children enrolled in public school. The fully wired project includes about 3,500 feet of distribution fiber and 18,000 feet of fiber drop cables, it said.

It will bring access to households not served by providers that serve other parts of San Benito County, said CPUC Executive Director Rachel Peterson: Households will receive free internet for at least five years. The CPUC previously greenlit three projects and more than $300,000 through California’s line-extension program, which was created by a 2017 law, she said.

This is really a step towards a revolution in digital equity,” said President Alice Reynolds, applauding the plan to bring free, “future-proof connectivity” for hundreds of farmworkers. Commissioner Darcie Houck praised funding for training and long-term support in addition to infrastructure. “Broadband availability by itself will not close the digital divide.”

Commissioner John Reynolds likes that the project connects by fiber to existing AT&T infrastructure, he said. “This is the kind of project that we need to ensure that we’re not missing parts of the state.” Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma lauded progress “providing reliable internet access to critical health services and online schooling in communities of low-income and very low-income farmworkers and people transitioning into the workforce.”