CPUC Greenlights Sale of Bright Fiber Network to Race Communications!

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JANUARY 10, 2019

Today, the California Public Utilities Commission (Commission) voted to approve the purchase of Bright Fiber Network, Inc. (Bright Fiber) by Race Telecommunications, Inc. (Race), giving the green light to a $26.8 million dollar fiber-to-the-home build, servicing 1,941 households in western Nevada County. The project was approved with a unanimous 4-0 vote.

The original Commission California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grant for the project which was awarded to Bright Fiber in December 2015, but was delayed by other federal grant developments and Bright Fiber’s search for financing for required matching funds.  In June 2018, Race announced its planned acquisition of Bright Fiber, which it will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Race to complete and manage the project. A successful Internet Service Provider that has received ten and completed nine Commission rural broadband projects in the state, Race will provide all necessary financing and bring deep technical and managerial expertise to the Bright Fiber project.  

“It’s been a ten-year journey to arrive at the point where construction can finally begin on this transformational gigabit fiber project in an area of rural Nevada County, where broadband Internet access is severely limited,” said John Paul, the President of Bright Fiber.  ”My neighborhood champions, the hundreds of project supporters and I are simply thrilled and grateful that the Commission approved Race taking the helm and completing Bright Fiber’s vision to bring our community into the Information Age.”

To contain costs that steeply rose since the project’s original application in 2013, Bright Fiber and Race proposed an amended project that is 25% underground with 75% aerial installation, meaning that the fiber will be attached to existing poles similar to telephone and electric facilities.  The Commission reviewed and approved these changes to the broadband project, including a $69,534 reduction in the CASF grant, now amended to $16,086,789.  The revised total cost of the project will be $26,811,315. The Commission found that the lack of reliable and affordable broadband in the project area remains the case today, and this transfer allows the project to be completed. Under Assembly Bill 1665, the Commission is working to provide broadband to 98% of the residents in the state by region.

The Commission granted an extension of the original deadline for construction to May 2020.  Race has already completed the engineering for the amended project and said it will immediately begin the permitting process with the local authorities and seek to complete the project within the required timeframe.

“Race is humbled and grateful that the Commission has moved quickly to approve this transfer of control of Bright Fiber and review the needed CASF project changes so that Race can construct this important project for the community,” said Raul Alcaraz, President of Race.  “Our team at Race has been blessed to have a successful track record of CASF projects, and we feel confident we can deliver a reliable, fast and affordable broadband system.”

Race and Bright Fiber will hold a Town Hall meeting for the community in the evening on Wednesday, January 30th to describe the amended project to interested community members and to answer any questions.  The location and time of the Town Hall will be announced shortly.
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Founded in 1994, Race Telecommunications, Inc. has a successful track record of delivering high-speed fiber solutions to rural and disadvantaged communities that are both affordable and sustainable. Working in partnership with the California Public Utilities Commission and non-profit community advocacy groups, Race has made it its mission to bridge the Digital Divide in California.

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Bright Fiber Network, Inc. is an independent internet service provider in Nevada County.  The company began as Spiral Internet in May 2006. Since its inception, Bright Fiber has evolved its business and service offerings in the rural broadband market and has worked tirelessly to bring a state-of-the-art fiber network to western Nevada County.  After the sale of BFN to Race, BFN will work exclusively on the fiber-to-the-home CASF project. A separate company, Spiral Internet LLC, has been spun off from BFN and will offer web hosting, dial-up, email, and DSL resale services under the leadership of John Paul.

Help the “little” guys out and have your voice heard with the FCC!

BE HEARD AND HELP SAVE TELECOM COMPETITION!

Many of you know that competitive internet access and telecom service is worth saving. Without competitive access, many consumers across the nation would be left at the mercy of the larger, incumbent providers.

A recent petition submitted to the FCC by the US Telecom Association, representing AT&T and other incumbents threatens other competitive carriers. We need you to speak out to save competition today!

The details: The 1996 Telecommunications Act allows competitive carriers like Race Communications and Sonic to rent bare copper lines from incumbent carriers, and to use spare fiber between cities. These critical “unbundled network elements” (UNEs) enable competitive carriers such as Race Communications and Sonic. Sonic uses UNEs to deploy equipment and provide their Fusion and FlexLink services, and to backhaul their gigabit fiber service. UNE copper services enables fiber deployment by allowing companies to aggregate demand and serve members while they deploy fiber.

The bottom line: If the petition passes, it will eliminate the right of independent carriers to serve customers on copper lines, and to use fiber to connect our networks around the state. This would impair the ability of providers like Sonic to deploy new gigabit fiber service. It is critical that we stand together to fight for competitive telecommunications, and we hope that you will join us and Sonic.

Visit savecompetition.com now and leave a public comment letting the FCC know you oppose the USTelecom petition. Together, we can make sure the FCC knows that approving the USTelecom petition is a huge step backwards for competition and for consumers.

Thank you for your support!

The battle for better connectivity in Rural California

Over the last decade, California’s urban centers have become technology hubs, cities where free Wi-Fi and fiber-optic lines are ubiquitous. But in low-income neighborhoods, across the state’s inland regions, and in rural communities — often home to large migrant populations — families struggle to connect at all.

Some elected officials see that reality as proof that a digital divide is leaving many people behind. And they’ve set out to remedy it.

In 2007, the state established the California Advanced Services Fund to offer companies incentive to help bridge the gap. The program has allowed broadband providers to apply for nearly $300 million in grants to bring fiber optic, copper, and other cable lines to some of the poorest and hardest-to-reach regions in the state.

The goal was to connect 98% of the 12.9 million homes across California, one that as of 2016 was within a few percentage points of being fulfilled. But while nearly 12.3 million homes in urban areas had some form of wireline broadband service by that year, less than half of roughly 680,900 households in rural areas had been connected.

This month, the reboot of the CASF program, which began in 2017, continues, with a new round of comments and suggestions landing at the California Public Utilities Commission. While incumbent and independent providers such as Race attempt to navigate the new bill, many California residents continue to pay too much for poor internet service. Many of the issues boil down to incumbent providers not fulfilling their end of the deal.

For example, when the CPUC allowed Frontier Communications to buy Verizon’s wireline systems in California, it imposed a long list of conditions, including commitments made as part of settlements reached with organizations that objected to the deal. Some of those obligations required Frontier to upgrade broadband service to more than 800,000 homes. In a recent complaint filed with the CPUC, the California Emerging Technology Fund claimed that Frontier “does not intend to honor” its commitments, including, among other things, the upgrade schedule it offered in 2016.

In addition, Frontier Communications failed to meet California phone service repair standards in 2017. It’s supposed to restore service within a certain amount of time 90% of the time in any given month, in every one of its Californian service territories. According to two draft resolutions currently with the CPUC, two of Frontier’s three subsidiaries missed the mark every single month.

Race Communications is dedicated to providing reliable, high-speed internet and advanced communications at an affordable price. Working in partnership with the California Public Utilities Commission and a number of non-profit community advocacy groups, Race focuses much of its efforts towards building out fiber networks and offering gigabit internet service to communities throughout California. As the battle continues for better connectivity, Race will continue to work towards its goal and mission to provide the best in Internet technology and customer service.

sources:
latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-digital-divide-rural-communities-20180118-htmlstory.html
https://www.tellusventure.com/blog/page/3/

AT&T and Frontier – feeling the burn from declining customers?

Despite being the only service provider in many parts of the country, Frontier’s stock dropped a whopping 62% in 2017 – and 2018 isn’t looking much better for the company. In fact, earlier this year, Bloomberg reported that Frontier was considering a sale of landline assets in California, Florida and Texas that the company acquired from Verizon. A Frontier sale of the Verizon lines would appear to be a rather desperate act aimed at improving the company’s capital structure.

However, it seems that Frontier isn’t the only telecom in trouble. AT&T’s stock has dropped to lows not seen in about six years, and shares are down roughly 12 percent since the session before its last quarterly announcement. The stock has fallen about 19 percent for the year. This may be why AT&T eliminated their SSR position earlier this week, potentially leaving over 4,200 without a job. This and other job cuts come after the telecom giant received a significant boost from the GOP’s tax law. This has put the company in the spotlight with the labor group, The Communications Workers of America (CWA).

The group estimates that AT&T has cut 7,000 jobs since the tax bill went into effect this year. They accuse the company of using its tax savings to enrich its shareholders and executives rather than investing in workers.

So what’s the deal? Why are these two companies struggling amidst tax cuts and government grants? It is clear that cord cutting has slowly been draining customers from the cable industry in recent years. The numbers have been growing each year, going from 105,000 pay television customers lost in 2013 to nearly 1.5 million in 1017.

This has affected AT&T and Frontier in different ways. AT&T owns both DirecTV and its own U-Verse service. It lost 554,000 DirecTV satellite customers in 2017 and dropped 624,000 U-Verse subscribers. But AT&T also gained 114,000 broadband subscribers, which helped further offset its cable losses.

Frontier did not fare as well. The company lost 184,000 cable customers in 2017. Even worse, it did not post any gains in broadband and dropped 330,0000 subscribers.
This raises an interesting question: What happens if Frontier can’t afford to keep its antiquated network up and running and what does that mean for California consumers?

The company has offered no indications that it’s eyeing cutbacks to network investment or service. Even so, “California consumers should be very concerned,” said Christine Mailloux, an attorney with the Utility Reform Network, an advocacy group.

“All wireline companies are losing customers,” she said. “But they still have obligations that have to be met.”

The Federal Communications Commission requires that any phone company “planning to discontinue or reduce domestic wireline service” must notify customers in advance and continue providing service for up to 60 days after making its intentions clear to authorities.

At the state level, the California Public Utilities Commission defines Frontier as a “carrier of last resort.” That means the company must meet a variety of obligations as a provider of basic phone services, such as reliable voice connections and free 911 access.

Frontier and AT&T are California’s two largest carriers of last resort. About 14 other smaller companies hold the designation in various communities statewide.

Constance Gordon, a spokeswoman for the state PUC, said a carrier of last resort would have to apply to the commission for any financial assistance, such as charging customers higher rates.”And if the carrier were closing down completely, it would need to have a migration plan to ensure that customers have service throughout the exit process,” she said.

That would mean making sure customers find a home either with another wireline phone service provider or with a cable or wireless company.

According to AT&T, the number of California households with landlines has declined by 85% since 1999. But carriers of last resort are nevertheless required to maintain full capacity for their phone networks as if every home still used copper phone lines. This will change as wireline demand disappears. In the meantime, thousands of seniors and low-income people depend on landlines for their communications needs, and they can’t simply be abandoned.

State officials and telecoms will have to oversee a smooth transition from 20th to 21st-century technology. Perhaps AT&T has the size and clout to survive this challenge.

As for Frontier, that remains to be seen.

sources:
https://www.telecompetitor.com/rumored-frontier-sale-of-verizon-lines-a-desperate-act/
http://thehill.com/policy/technology/399214-labor-group-targets-att-gop-candidates-over-post-tax-bill-job-losses
https://www.fool.com/investing/2018/04/24/better-buy-frontier-communications-corporation-vs.aspx
http://www.latimes.com/business/lazarus/la-fi-lazarus-frontier-verizon-landlines-20170718-story.html

SB 822 Squashed by Assembly Committee

On May 30th of this year, the California Senate approved Senate Bill 822, a bill that aimed to reinstate the net neutrality regulations repealed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last December. Today, June 20, 2018; the California net neutrality bill was gutted in the Assembly committee meeting.

The California net neutrality bill that advocates hailed as the “gold standard” for Internet protections, was “eviscerated,” its chief backer, Sen. Scott Weiner said, in a committee hearing Wednesday morning.

The Senate Bill would have barred ISPs from blocking, throttling or engaging in paid prioritization. SB822 would have also prevented ISPs that don’t abide the prohibitions in the bill from contracting with California state and local governments.

However, in an 8-0 vote, the state Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee adopted amendments to SB822, which removed the provisions that would have given the state the strongest prohibitions against discriminatory treatment of Internet traffic in the country.

Among its recommendations were to allow a debated ISP practice called “zero rating,” where some websites and apps don’t count against a consumer’s data allowance. Opponents view zero rating as a backdoor way of discriminating against online services that don’t sign on with free-data deals with broadband and wireless companies.

Race Communications was in full support of the bill and is saddened by the outcome of today’s committee meeting. Our company will continue to maintain a pro net-neutrality policy and hopes that our peers will continue to do the same.

Sources:
https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/California-net-neutrality-bill-eviscerated-13011048.php