The California Public Utilities Commission couldn’t come to a decision yesterday on a $28 million grant from the for a fiber to the home project in the San Bernardino County community of Phelan. Despite false starts and nearly two years of review, commissioners put off a vote on Race Telecommunications’ Gigafy Phelan proposal until at least their next meeting.
They were responding to a stream of late protests from Frontier Communications, which is getting federal subsidies to upgrade service to some of the same homes. That federally subsidised service, though, doesn’t have to offer anything better than 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, which doesn’t meet the CPUC’s minimum standard of 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up. And there’s no way of guaranteeing what Frontier will deliver in the portions of the project area that are not eligible for federal money.
Most of the commissioners seemed to support the project, at one level or another. Commissioner Liane Randolph said it should go forward…
It’s an appropriate project for CASF funds, the applicant has met all of the requirements, it’s an area that needs service. I understand the concern about the [federal] funds. But, to staff’s point, you don’t want to discourage applicants from proposing projects in areas that are identified as needing service and then having the rug pulled out from under them after another applicant comes in after the protest period. So I feel that for appropriate management of the program, providing better service to the community, I am comfortable with this project. And if and when it comes back, I’m going to be supportive of it.
There were questions about where Frontier is building out, how it can use the federal money, and whether or not some level of cooperation between them and Race is possible. CPUC president Michael Picker, who usually votes against infrastructure grants when an incumbent isn’t involved, had even more questions. Which could also mean even more delays. That could be a problem, as commissioner Carla Peterman pointed out…
I do have some concern that if we delay this matter indefinitely, then this project may not be there and this community will be in the same place with the same digital divide issue it currently suffers from.
The next CPUC meeting is scheduled for 13 July 2017.