A dozen grants to fund installation of broadband facilities in public housing projects in California will be in front of the California Public Utilities Commission next month. The twelve proposals have been stalled, some more than a year, because Charter and Comcast tried to kill the grants in order to protect what little business they have in those low income communities. According to the draft CPUC resolution…
Charter and Comcast have provided documentation that services are available to 100 percent of residents in these challenged properties. They have submitted the number of customers living on the property that subscribe to their service, billing documents and speed tests to prove that they provide residents broadband Internet services at speeds equal to or greater than what the applicants propose to provide. They submitted documentation to show that an average of 25% of the residents in the project locations listed in Table 1 subscribe to available ISP services.
[The applicants] responded to the challenges. They asserted that although the units may have wiring to support broadband Internet service, residents do not subscribe to that service because they cannot afford the services.
I wrote about two of Charter’s protests last year. Essentially, Charter told the commission all it needed to know about the state of broadband facilities in order to approve grants for those properties. Charter, as well as Comcast, did not understand the way the public housing facilities program works. Unlike major infrastructure projects, also paid for by the California Advanced Services Fund, public money can be spent on facilities in public housing even if service is available, so long as no ISP was denied access.
The whole point of public housing is to provide basic necessities for people who couldn’t otherwise afford them. Broadband is one such necessity, particularly for kids trying to get an education or people looking for work. It’s a great thing if market rate services are available too, but the fact that only a quarter of residents can afford standard cable broadband prices tells you all you need to know. Hopefully, that’s all the CPUC will need to know as well, when the vote comes in June.