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More Areas Eligible

CPUC Touts More 'Granular' Broadband Maps

More areas are eligible for state broadband funding under the California Public Utilities Commission’s more granular mapping approach for 2023, CPUC officials said Monday. The CPUC held a California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) virtual workshop with ISPs, consumers, local governments, and regional consortia. “The validation process we’re using for CASF … is more rigorous and more responsive to the reality on the ground than what we’re seeing at the federal level,” said Communications Division Director Robert Osborn.

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As the events of the last few years have made broadband access more important than ever before, the landscape of funding for broadband infrastructure has evolved dramatically,” said Commissioner Darcie Houck. The problems have changed “from how do we fund broadband access to how do we allocate the billions of dollars in funding provided by state and federal programs for expansion of broadband.” Policymakers must ensure they serve the most vulnerable and hardest to reach geographically, including rural, tribal and disadvantaged communities, said Houck.

The California commission released an update to its state broadband map Friday. “The new map includes updated functionality to the CASF Infrastructure Account Eligibility layer and shows CASF eligibility … by residential serviceable locations within census blocks,” the Communications Division emailed stakeholders. The map considers a location eligible if it lacks broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

The market clearly has not been able to close the digital divide on its own,” said Osborn: What role state government will play is the question. “We took a hard look at how the PUC has subsidized broadband and we’ve literally had to pivot in our approach, from what I call ‘map it and they will come’ to empowering localities. Since the switch to a location-based map from a census-block approach, more places have become eligible for CASF grants, said Osborn. He noted the FCC’s national map showed some of these places as served on June 30. The CPUC has submitted many challenges to the FCC, he said.

California’s new map “is a lot more granular” than previous iterations, said CPUC Program and Project Supervisor Louise Fischer. As a result, unserved areas within census blocks containing some served locations are no longer ineligible for grants, she said. Staff will demand proof from ISPs that challenge such locations, she added.

The CPUC collected data from 158 broadband companies, including 154 fixed providers and four top wireless carriers, for its new map, said Alex Abramson, CPUC regulatory analyst. "We collected data as granularly as we possibly could." The map has a new census-block level broadband adoption layer; it was previously by census tract, said Abramson: The updated CASF eligibility layer now shows locations as unserved (less than 25/3 Mbps) or “priority unserved” (less than 10/1 Mbps).

The CPUC is considering another extension of the 2023 CASF application deadline due to delays releasing the map, said Selena Huang, program manager-Broadband Video and Market Branch. The CPUC previously extended the infrastructure account application deadline by one month to May 1, with challenges due June 5 (see 2303220053). The agency had said the last extension was due to multiple service providers submitting data late.

The California Department of Technology plans to post a draft digital equity plan in July and take comments in August, said Scott Adams, deputy director-broadband and digital literacy. CDT must file the final plan to NTIA in late November, he said. The CPUC's five-year action plan for NTIA’s broadband, equity, access and deployment (BEAD) program is due to NTIA in mid-August, said Osborn. Comments are due April 17 on a CPUC proceeding to make rules for the BEAD funding (docket R.23-02-016), he said.