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/

Introducing… Race BasicTV

Race Communications is happy to announce the release of a NEW product – A basic TV package that will be available in all of our markets. Many of our customers have asked for an alternative when it comes to our television offering, and our company has been working to come up with a solution.  Without further ado, let us present our newest product offering: The Race Basic TV package.

What is it?
The Race Basic TV package is a simple television offering that has local and off-air channels. The line up will vary by market based on which local channels are available. The package consists of 20+ channels including ABC, Fox, CW and more.

How much will it cost?
The package will be $28/month plus $7 for the required standard set-top box. This brings the price to $35/month. You’re welcomed to upgrade to a DVR if you need to be able to record your favorite shows.

Who is this package for?
This package is a great addition to customers who stream the majority of their entertainment but miss local news and weather programs. It also perfect for those who don’t watch a lot of television and just need a few channels!

Be sure to check out our sample line up here

Race Back2School Event: Phelan, CA

Race believes in community engagement and strives to attend as many community events as possible. In addition, Race does its best to give back to the communities where the company offers service.

This year, the company decided to do something new for two of their communities – a backpack giveaway for residents in Phelan and Boron, CA. The first event took place in Phelan and was a huge success. 100 backpacks were given out to children of all ages!

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The Race team showed up bright and early to start setting up for the event. Boxes of backpacks, school supplies, and water bottles were unpacked, banners were hung and the A/C was turned on. By 5pm, residents of Phelan began to show up and formed a neat line outside the new Race field office.

 

Water bottles and tickets were given to all those who were in line until supplies ran out – It didn’t take long for 100 tickets to be claimed and soon, children were filling the office alongside their parents ready to get their school supplies!

 

Jr. Miss Phelan was in attendance as well as writers and photographers from the local newspapers. It was a whirlwind event and by 7pm, all backpacks and school supplies had been handed out.

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The Race team had an absolute blast and looks forward to next week’s backpack giveaway in Boron, CA. The event in Boron, CA is taking place next Tuesday and is open to residents in Boron, Randsburg, Red Mountain and Johannesburg. The event will be held at the Boron Community Park from 5-7pm.

After such a successful event, Race is considering a repeat next year!

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