By: L.A. Ortega
October 29, 2020
A page right out of the book of “it could happen to you”, especially if you are recipient of CASF funds from the CPUC.
During the Evidentiary Hearing, August 24th – 27th, Community Union, Inc.(CU) revealed that the Auditor used deficient sample sets, that is – sample sets that were not representative of the total number of NIU Graduates served by CU. The testimony provided by the Auditor revealed that he had only spoke to 11 students of the 1,776 student NIU Graduates. The Auditor made an error in using the deficient sample sets and leaping to an erroneous conclusion of CU providing half of what the contract dictated. It was wrong, but it was enough for Commissioner Rechtschaffen to launch an investigation that would ultimately trample due process rights belonging to the NIU Coalition.
HERE’S OUR STORY
The very reason the NIU Coalition had to endure years of adjudication was mainly instigated by the Auditor’s erroneous finding relating to the hours of training provided by CU. The Audit said that only half of the work had been completed and that the NIU Coalition may have committed fraud by stating they had fulfilled their contractual obligations. Without confirming the validity of this allegation, CPUC launched the Order Instituting Investigation (OII) using – in malice – key phrases like “the misuse of CASF funds”. The design of the OII was setup with prejudice and bias. CU filed its Motion today with the CPUC docket office in an attempt to disqualify the Commissioner Rechtschaffen for designing the OII with the intent of setting the Coalition up for failure. When CU attempted to present our facts of the case, we were shut-down. Our Motion to disqualify Commissioner Rechtschaffen and set a new evidentiary hearing date is provided for your reading pleasure below. In the Motion CU cites 6 separate reasons why the Commission would go to such great lengths to smear the good work of the NIU Coalition.
Though technically still not over, the CPUC’s witch-hunt on finding malice on One Million NIU, Community Union, Inc. (CU) and/or Larry Ortega – where none existed, has suffered a severe blow in integrity.
WHY WOULD THE CPUC ENGAGE IN THE PURSUIT OF A WITCH-HUNT AGAINST ONE THE COUNTRY’S FOREMOST EXPERTS ON DIGITAL DIVIDE ISSUES:
FIRST – RACISM: Based on Mr. Ortega’s interaction with Robert Wullenjohn of the Communications Division (CD), Community Union believes that racism is at the core of this investigation. The NIU Coalition was the only minority led agency to be funded by the CASF grant of the original 18 agencies funded. Of all those initial 18 agencies that were funded, the NIU Coalition was the only agency to be audited. Mr. Wullenjohn approved an $85,000 audit of the NIU Coalition in an effort to block an $80,000 reimbursement request submitted by the Coalition. Testimony from the evidentiary hearing revealed instruments used by CD to determine the NIU Coalition performance – actually showed the Coalition having met or exceeded the goals of the Work Plan.
SECOND – THE POPULATION SERVED BY NIU COALITION: The population served by the NIU Coalition are low-income minorities who were articulating, on regional television and newspapers, success stories that were inspirational. CD sought to halt the positive influence to other minority communities by way of cutting-off funding to the Coalition. When CD made the conscious decision to not pay the reimbursements requests submitted by the Coalition, they effectively cut-off the positive promotion of broadband adoption in low-income minority communities. The greatest question we hope ALJ Zhang will answer in this Motion is why would CD want to stop the very essence of the Coalition’s accomplishments – which matched perfectly with the essence of Decision 11-06-038 “the ubiquitous promotion/adoption of broadband technology” in low-income and minority communities.
THIRD – COMCAST: Over the last 2 decades Larry A. Ortega has been an outspoken critic of the broken promises made by Internet Providers (a.k.a. telephone and cable TV providers). During a National Conference in San Francisco in 2014, Ortega called-out Comcast on their grossly inadequate Internet Essentials program that was to connect millions of low income children throughout America. It never happened. Mr. Ortega pointed this out in a very public forum held in San Francisco.
FOURTH – CHARTER (Spectrum): Ortega on May 12, 2016 flew to Sacramento to testify against the Charter merger with Time Warner. Ortega asked the California Public Utilities Commission to make the promises made by Charter as conditions to their merger. Mr. Ortega asked the Commissioners to put in writing Charter’s commitment to connect 53,000 low income households with high-speed Internet and make it enforceable – by way of unraveling the merger deal if Charter did not fulfill its promises. The Commission ultimately voted Ortega’s proposal for accountability down, but these comments further put Ortega on the radar of the telecommunication industry.
The CPUC’s hands-off protocol – in not enforcing promises made during mega-mergers – is what led us to the digital divide crisis we currently are experiencing. The telecommunications industry failing to deliver on promises is a very big deal. The embarrassment brought to Comcast, ATT and Charter via Mr. Ortega’s testimony in public forum, is believed what is instigating the Commissioner to pursue an extremely feeble case against Community Union.
FIFTH: The IRREGULATORS estimate that California rate payers have been overcharged about $1.75 billion in 2019 and about $2 billion in 2020. This public utility money – destined to close the digital divide – never made it to its destination, see any low-income community in the country. Ortega has been out-spoken writing about these activities in his blog several times over the last 5 years. The following represents excerpts pulled from Ortega’s writings disclosing the short-comings caused by the Internet Service Providers (ISP’s).
- Let us stop acting like the digital divide came upon us unexpectedly like some tsunami or hurricane. Rather, let us be honest with ourselves and admit deregulation has once again failed us. Industry has once again taken advantage of the American consumer. Prices as low as $20 per month for 100mbps up and down in Europe
and Israel have been available at least the last two years to consumers living in those regions.
- Digital red-lining has netted ISP’s enormous profit. The digital divide by design, was perfectly executed without interruption for nearly two decades. Then Covid-19 hit, distance learning was mandated and viola the farce that providers were connecting everyone – everywhere was revealed. With all the bad things that Covid-19 has brought to our neighborhoods, the upside is there is the political will to hold ISP’s accountable and provide alternative funding methods to municipalities and school districts to close the digital divide once and for all.
SIXTH – BOYLE HEIGHTS RESIDENTS AND FARMERS AGAINST TOXIC 5G CELL PHONE AND CELL TOWER RF WAVES: Thus far the wireless industry has masterfully eluded basic safety obligations to the public to ensure no harm. They have skirted the requisites and refused to analyze/acknowledge conclusive studies showing negative health impacts caused by RF (radio frequency) waves.In 2016 Verizon’s CEO Lowell McAdams disclosed there was more money to be made with deployment of wireless and despite commitments to build-out America’s fiber-optic infrastructure, he was empowered by the regulatory agencies to ignore these obligations and other safety concerns. Verizon’s CEO prioritized the company’s ability to maximize profits. Again, Ortega wrote extensively about this issue, creating the Pueblito Fuerte webpage, showing the chronological destruction of the Boyle Heights residents’ right to be free from harmful RF Waves. Mr. Ortega has called on the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) to halt the deployment of 5G and other wireless towers until the harmful effects of wireless technologies can be mitigated – especially to small children. Mr. Ortega has exposed the digital divide by design. Mr. Ortega wrote about a process where low-income and communities of color were digitally-red-lined – literally blocked from getting access to high-speed Internet. This allowed for the domination of the wireless – toxic – build-out of cell towers and small antennas harming small children, pregnant women and the elderly. Verizon during a commercial in yesterday’s World Series game promoted the technological advances of 5G, without mentioning the extreme health concerns 5G technology brings to small children and the elderly – especially pregnant women.
These issues as cited in 1-6 above, by themselves may seem harmless, but when you combine their impact – the greed of the telecommunication industry is revealed and the need to silence and/or discredit voices speaking truth to these issues is heightened. Thus we have the OII as written by the Commissioner and as adjudicated by ALJ Zhang, in a blatant exhibit of blocking the truth, justice and due process.
THE BOTTOM-LINE: Community Union, Inc. helped the NIU Coalition meet and/or exceed all goals stated in the Work Plan, bringing over 30 million viewers to see the good work of CASF investment; Community Union tripled the Coalition’s original commitment of cash and in-kind contributions to the contract – to over $1.2 million; Community Union, despite being abandoned by its fiscal agent in this contract, maintained the integrity of the Coalition’s commitment to the contract by staying in this adjudicatory process until the very end to ensure truth and justice were served for all those involved; Community Union revealed that CPED placed all of their faith into the Auditor’s .006% sample set from the Audit Report. All this to say CU proved the OII was premised on a witch-hunt theory. Mr. Ortega has maintained throughout this entire adjudicatory process that the Commission from Commissioner Rechtschaffen to CPED’s integrity-challenged evidence, that – weak evidence – combined with skewed due process, clearly supports our contention of the witch-hunt theory. As such CU files the following motion in a hopes to point-out the vengeance of selected staff members within the CPUC can lead to pretty embarrassing outcomes for the CPUC.
If you believe the CPUC has exacted prejudice, bias or racist actions against you or your organization, we want to hear from you. In confidence we will share the futility certain members of the CPUC staff are willing to engage, in blatant abuse of their regulatory authority, simply to harass. As previously stated the Communications Division of the CPUC authorized an $85,000 expenditure to effectively block payment of $80,000 due to the Coalition. Email us here: LA@LAOrtega.com