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States Near NTIA Deadline

NJ Board Clears BEAD Plan, Tees Up Altice Franchise Renewal

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities unanimously agreed Wednesday to submit to NTIA both volumes of the state’s initial proposal for the broadband, equity, access and deployment (BEAD) program. Meanwhile, with the filing deadline one week away, Wisconsin submitted its plan Wednesday and California signaled it will follow soon. Also, at the livestreamed New Jersey BPU meeting, commissioners voted 4-0 to kick off the statewide franchise renewal process for Altice’s Cablevision.

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All states and territories’ initial BEAD proposals are due Dec. 27. Ten states submitted their full initial plan to NTIA as of Friday, an NTIA dashboard shows. Louisiana last week became the first state to get full NTIA approval for its initial proposal (see 2312150047). The agency received only the first volume from 21 states and territories. It hasn’t received either volume from 24 others, though they all released drafts of both volumes.

New Jersey commissioners Wednesday authorized staff to submit the state's full initial plan to NTIA. New Jersey last month posted draft BEAD plans and sought comments (see 2311200052). The state expects that its $264 million allocation from NTIA “will be sufficient to reach all unserved locations, unserved [community anchor institutions], and underserved locations in the state with fiber service,” the volume two draft said. “The only scenario where other technologies would be selected over fiber would be when … the selection of an alternative technology would result in significantly more eligible locations receiving service from the best available technology.”

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission submitted volume two to NTIA Wednesday, a PSC spokesperson told us. Wisconsin commissioners voted at their Dec. 14 meeting to finalize the plan.

The California Public Utilities Commission will submit its full initial proposal by Dec. 27, a CPUC spokesperson said Wednesday. The commission “will adopt the rules for the BEAD Program once it receives an indication from the [NTIA] that it will accept the Initial Proposal,” Administrative Law Judge Thomas Glegola said in a Tuesday email to the service list for docket R.23-02-016. The CPUC plans to post a proposed decision on each volume, he said.

Glegola's message indicates commissioners won’t need to vote on California’s initial proposal before the agency can send it to the NTIA, said Ashley Salas, acting telecom managing attorney for The Utility Reform Network: After the state gets federal approval, the CPUC probably would incorporate any NTIA-sought changes and release two proposed decisions, which commissioners could vote on the following month under the usual procedure. If adopted, the proposals “will become the California BEAD program rules,” said Salas.

N.J. Cable Franchise Renewal

The New Jersey board agreed to release an ascertainment report examining Cablevision’s past performance and identifying the community’s future cable-related needs (docket CE15111317). Releasing the report marks "the first phase of the renewal process" for the company’s system-wide franchise, said Cable and Telecommunications Director Lawanda Gilbert. The next step is for Cablevision to file a formal franchise renewal application. After that the board will hold two public hearings prior to its final review, said Gilbert. Cablevision must file an application within 90 days.

The board last renewed Cablevision’s franchise in 2016, extending it seven years, Gilbert said. The telecom director said Cablevision asserts that it has met all of its franchise commitments, including complying with consumer protection rules, providing public, educational and governmental (PEG) programming and making free basic cable and internet connections available to schools, libraries and municipal buildings. Cablevision has 39 municipalities under its system-wide franchise; the company still has local franchise agreements with 12 municipalities, according to the ascertainment report.

Cablevision is currently in compliance with line extension, PEG and consumer protection requirements, and “the material terms and conditions of its system-wide cable television franchise,” the Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications said in the report. But the office also noted complaints rose sharply after the 2016 franchise renewal, with the office receiving 1,310 written complaints about the company during the seven-year period.

Staff saw "successive increases of complaints” year to year, spiking in 2020 and 2021, the report said. "Cablevision experienced greater than normally expected increases in its complaint levels during the term of the franchise due to the change in its pro-ration policy and deficiencies in its customer service platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic." But since a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in April (see 2304030052 and 2304030053), Cablevision returned to compliance with board rules by deploying an old policy of prorating bills when customers cancel service, the report said. "It is noted that the complaints have been trending downward since the peak in 2020," and the company remedied customer service problems found by the board's 2021 service quality investigation.

Altice "is pleased to begin the franchise renewal process in New Jersey and continue our longstanding partnership with the state" and the company remains committed to local residents and businesses, said a spokesperson:

The New Jersey board’s final meeting of 2023 was the last for Commissioner Mary-Anna Holden, whom then-Gov. Chris Christie (R) appointed in 2012. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) appointed Michael Bange to replace her. On Monday, the state Senate Judiciary Committee cleared Bange for a full Senate vote.