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Fiber vs. Wireless

Calif. BEAD Rulemaking Draws Many Comments

Fiber and wireless proponents faced off in comments this week on a California Public Utilities Commission rulemaking to develop state rules for distributing dollars from NTIA’s broadband, equity, access and deployment (BEAD) program (docket R.23-02-016). They disagreed on how high California should set its Extremely High Cost Per Location Threshold (EHCT), which will be used to determine what areas can get non-fiber broadband service. Commenters also debated how much the CPUC should add to requirements from the BEAD notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) and how much the state agency should rely on the FCC’s national map to determine what areas are served.

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Don't exclude fixed wireless by setting the EHCT too high, said CTIA, the Wireless ISP Association (WISPA) and the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) in separate comments. If the NOFO’s “fiber bias … effectively bars applicants from proposing fixed wireless or wireless/fiber hybrid networks in their applications, many locations in California will not be funded, as the cost to deploy fiber in sparsely populated or terrain-challenged areas will be too high,” WISPA warned. WIA said overly emphasizing one technology “will raise the cost of the program and leave less funds available for non-deployment considerations.” An overly high threshold will limit the CPUC’s ability to get broadband deployed to as many unserved and underserved locations as feasible, undermining the legislative purpose of the funding,” said Verizon Wireless.

Take care not to over-prescribe areas as extremely high cost, making them eligible for "inferior technology,” countered Center for Accessible Technology and Electronic Frontier Foundation in joint comments. "There is no guarantee that a future government program will intervene to remedy over-prescriptions, meaning those areas not included in fiber deployment may be trapped in obsolescence for decades more to come.”

Set the EHCT to reflect NTIA’s fiber preference, said AT&T. The Fiber Broadband Association recommended setting it "high enough so that fiber deployments are maximized but not so high that providers do not apply or otherwise agree to serve eligible locations.”

AT&T urged California regulators to resist adding conditions to BEAD funding, even though NTIA allows it: “That some discretion is permitted does not signify that there are gaps in the existing rules which states should fill.”

Don't “adopt burdensome and counterproductive rules, such as open access or pricing conditions, which are not required under the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] or NOFO and will deter qualified applicants from participating and reduce the BEAD Program’s effectiveness in connecting all unserved and underserved Californians with reliable, high-speed broadband,” said California Broadband & Video Association, representing the cable industry.

But Los Angeles urged the CPUC to condition funding on providers providing low-cost service plans in addition to participating in the affordable connectivity program. When considering additional prioritization factors, "equitable workforce development and job quality should be the highest priority, followed by open access, then local and tribal coordination,” the county said. Require subgrantees to coordinate with local and tribal authorities including on workforce development and identifying unserved and underserved populations, San Francisco urged. Give more points to applicants that show they collaborate with tribes, local governments, anchor institutions or community organizations, said Next Century Cities.

The CPUC should prioritize open access projects, commented Incompas: BEAD-funded networks will likely be the only broadband facilities in a given area, "and the high entry barriers in those areas make it unlikely that another service provider will deploy network facilities.” Prioritizing open access networks will promote more competition and affordable service, agreed anchor institutions represented by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition. Next Century Cities agreed the CPUC should prioritize open access, especially networks using the state's middle-mile network and "those with interest from multiple retail providers."

"Labor factors should receive a substantial point allocation,” said Communications Workers of America District 9. Besides what NTIA requires, the CPUC should consider how an entity prioritizes direct employment, training and having a locally based work force, CWA said.

Prioritize speed to deployment, Comcast and Cox suggested jointly. But when evaluating that factor, said Charter Communications, consider the project's scale, how many unserved and underserved locations are in the application and “extenuating circumstances beyond the subgrantee’s control that can cause construction delays.”

Multiple industry groups urged priority for experienced providers' projects. Prioritize possible subgrantees that have "proven experience building, operating, and maintaining networks" and effective "cybersecurity and supply chain risk management practices,” said Verizon.

Be skeptical of FCC broadband maps, and collect additional information from ISP challengers, said consumer groups and local governments. "As the erroneous data included in FCC Broadband Maps will be used as a foundation for the State Broadband Maps, it is critical that the Commission creates a separate challenge process that is accessible to the public and places the onus back onto internet service providers to prove the validity of their submitted service data,” said the Greenlining Institute and others. Require challengers to provide comprehensive evidence to support claims that areas are served, the CPUC's independent Public Advocates Office said.

"Providers that claim to serve a location should be required to submit existing infrastructure maps and other proof of service to the CPUC that should then be verified by the CPUC, through an audit by qualified, third-party engineers or other method,” wrote Los Angeles. “Simply accepting the FCC National Broadband Map as proof of broadband service is inadequate, and the CPUC should require and lead a more rigorous investigation of provider claims.” The national map “reflects provider coverage claims,” stressed Next Century Cities. "State and local efforts to crowdsource broadband data through speed tests and surveys are currently the best practice for validating broadband availability data."

The CPUC should treat the national map as authoritative, disagreed ACA Connects. "We recognize that the FCC Maps have flaws, but these are diminishing. … If the CPUC relies on alternative data sources of its choosing, a free-for-all would ensue, with no common base of well-vetted data to drive decisions."