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CPUC Votes Thursday

AT&T, Cable Resist Calif. Affordability Metrics

Phone and cable companies sought to stop California from adopting affordability metrics for the communications sector. The California Public Utilities Commission plans to vote Thursday on a June 10 proposed decision to apply an affordability framework across its regulated industries. In Friday reply comments in docket R.18-07-006, consumer advocates urged the CPUC to reject the communications industry’s due process and other concerns.

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The plan fails to show how the metrics could be applied and it's unclear how they would be "operationalized in practical terms” or fit into existing frameworks for reviewing California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grant applications, said AT&T. "Vague and ambiguous rules are not only a violation of procedural due process but will also create confusion, controversy, and delay in deploying broadband internet access to Californians.” AT&T and others also raised concerns about a staff proposal in January (see 2201110050).

Industry "distress over any potential review of the affordability of their rates is telling,” countered Center for Accessible Technology (CforAT). “Providers have made repeated claims, based on economic theory, that communications services markets are sufficiently competitive to make broadband affordable. One would think that providers would be eager to prove those economic theories correct.” But when the CPUC proposes to get affordability data, “those providers raise a host of excuses and justifications arguing that doing so is unnecessary.”

California grant program rules already address affordability by giving points to project proposals that include low-priced services, noted separate replies by AT&T, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA) and a group of small rural LECs. The proposal "completely lacks specificity as to how the affordability metrics would be implemented within the complex rules” for the CASF infrastructure account and the federal funding account (FFA) required by the state’s $6 billion broadband law from last year, said CCTA. “The failure to do so is not only unreasonable, but highly problematic given the billions of dollars in public funds at stake.”

Affordability metrics were developed for non-communications rate-setting proceedings and "are underdeveloped and a poor fit for the CASF and Broadband Infrastructure proceedings,” CCTA said. Also, applying affordability metrics to those other rulemakings "would violate due process, given the insufficient notice and opportunity to comment on a clear and sufficiently detailed implementation proposal,” it said.

CCTA shows significant errors with affordability metrics, said the small RLECs. "Widespread implementation of the metrics, as sought by some consumer groups, should not occur until these errors are addressed." Don’t apply affordability metrics to the broadband or CASF programs “because affordability rules already exist … and the adoption of new rules would cause unnecessary delay and uncertainty.”

The CPUC should reject industry’s argument that CASF and broadband program rules already address affordability, said CforAT. “Affordability requirements for grant eligibility and affordability metrics for consumers are not the same thing.” Industry has commented many times in the affordability docket, and parties in broadband and CASF proceedings had “ample notice” that the commission would apply affordability metrics, said the consumer group. The Public Advocates Office agreed the CPUC allowed enough comment.

Those opposed to implementing affordability metrics for communications "ignore this proceeding’s goals,” said The Utility Reform Network. TURN said the CPUC was clear from the start "that various other proceedings address affordability in numerous ways and that this proceeding set forth a Commission effort to establish a more uniform method to evaluate affordability.”