Public Comment

Restraint of Trade: Berkeley Fiber Optic Access Threatened

Glen Kohler
Thursday January 17, 2019 - 02:33:00 PM

AT&T and Comcast have been pushing hard to stop SONIC from expanding its high-speed optical fiber service in Berkeley. First their lobbying organization in Washington, U.S. Telecom, petitioned the FCC to alter the Telecommunications Act of 1997, which maintained competitve rates by required the big boys to share their phone lines with competing service providers. The petition deliberately lied, saying that there is no competition locally, and that ‘no residential customers would be affected’ by the proposed rules change. 

Customers of the two main local competitors, and SONIC, responded in droves with comments about the petition, and to date it appears that U.S. Telecom's petition has not been granted. 

Now, AT&T, Comcast, and PG&E—and the City of Berkeley—are conspiring to limit SONIC’s ability to expand its services in Berkeley by another slimy tactic. Key sections of overhead wires are being put underground, but SONIC isn’t being allowed to put its fiber cables in the new conduits. If this is carried through, SONIC’s ability to expand its services in Berkeley will be sharply restricted. The capper is that PG&E is disallowing SONIC from using key utility poles that would obviate the necessity of being included in the underground project. 

Today an e-mail from the Google Group Equal Utility Choice in California, said in part: 

Under present CPUC rules the current "incumbent" providers get the chance to use taxes to effectively lock in a monopoly under public streets, when utilities are undergrounded. (e.g. AT&T and Comcast) [This Group’s …] goal is expanding sharing requirements: equal access to any qualified competitor. 

Those who want to know more and do something can join a google group: Equal Utility Choice in California Underground Areas!forum/equal-access-to-california-homes-with-underground-utilities 

The Utility Reform Network, TURN, has been advised of this maneuver and has signaled its interest in lending a hand. Also, City Council members Susan Wengraf and Kate Harrison have responded to Equal Utiiity Choice communiques. This corporate attack on local businesses (LMI in Berkeley, SONIC in Santa Rosa) really ought to be stopped. Especially considering that AT&T deliberately excluded Berkeley from its program of fiber optic conversion* … until SONIC began offering services here. 

* Reported to the writer by AT&T technicians in 2015.