Los Angeles County Supervisors Put Corporate Interests Ahead of the Peoples’ Under the Guise of Closing the Digital Divide

Los Angeles County Supervisors Put Corporate Interests Ahead of the Peoples’ Under the Guise of Closing the Digital Divide

Title 16 and 22 L.A. County Code Modifications are Versions of 2 Separate Wireless Industry Bills Vetoed by 2 Separate California Governors

November 18, 2022

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on November 15th in a 4-1 vote, had the audacity of using the digital divide to usher in a wireless industry dream come true.  It was disappointing to watch Supervisor Mitchell advocate for this wireless industry bill twice rejected(vetoed) by two different California Governors.  Missing from the discussion was the complexity of the digital divide, the critical layers beyond connectivity and how the Title 16 and 22 county ordinance modification language she just approved was indistinguishable from the language in the bills rejected by our Governors.  An Industry bill by any other name or rationale…

The Digital Divide Created by Pricing and Bad Policy

“We don’t need to be wasting resources looking at fair pricing [for Internet Service],” said California Emerging Technology Fund’s founding and current Executive Director, Sunne McPeak, during a California Broadband Council meeting in October of 2021.  McPeak’s CETF was the recipient of a $60 million windfall from the Time-Warner – Charter Communication mega-merger in 2016.  This mega-merger narrowed Internet Service Provider competition in the Los Angeles region to near zero, setting-up a monopoly that would allow Spectrum (Time-Warner – Charter’s new name) to charge customers 10 times more money than what our European counterparts were paying for the exact same service.

In 2020, Bruce Kushnick – 30-year telecommunication analyst wrote: US consumers are paying $217 per month on average, while our European counterparts are paying $47 per month for Internet, phone and TV.  Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Ernesto Falcon told me lack of competition is the core reason for price gouging and poor service among Internet Service Providers.  The California Public Utilities Commission has cited that the incumbent Internet Service Providers have made accepting fines and penalties for not upgrading their networks as simply the cost of doing business.

Dating all the way back to the days of the trust buster himself, Teddy Roosevelt, America has known monopolies are bad for consumers.  CETF’s McPeak said during this same October 2021 California Broadband Council meeting, “what we need to be doing is concentrating on getting everyone who qualifies, signed-up for ACP (Affordable Connectivity Program).”  ACP is a $30 government subsidy (gift) to the big Internet Service Providers(ISP’s): AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum et al, in exchange for them lowering a low income families Internet bill by the same.  The problem is, ACP erroneously presumes current pricing by ISP’s is fair, without the benefit of having tested US pricing against global markets or looking at actual costs to the ISP’s to deliver Internet service.  

Why would CETF’s McPeak, a prominent member of the top leadership on digital divide issues in California, recommend against looking at fair pricing?  What is the harm in ensuring this public utility on the same level of import as water and electricity is priced fairly?  How much is the $60M CETF received weighing on the decision to not look at fair pricing?  Where are the labor unions on the issue of fair pricing?  There is an inherent conflict, much like the conflict of McPeak’s CETF.  It’s not just McPeak’s group.  During the 2016 California Public Utilities Commission hearing on the Time-Warner – Charter merger there were at least a half-dozen diverse non-profit leaders who went along with the idea monopolies are good.  This despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  What would explain the refusal of elected, regulatory and other special interest groups (e.g. CETF’s of the world) flat-out refusal of looking into fair pricing for Internet Service?

The answer is quite simple: money.  Mountains and mountains of ill-gotten gain.

Ill-Gotten Gain

In what could easily be titled legalized-corruption-101, California legislators in 2012 approved SB1161 which was codified into PU 710 making it law that telecommunication companies, e.g. Verizon, AT&T, did not have to upgrade consumers’ telecommunication infrastructure in regions where there was no clear profit to be made, e.g. poor communities; but could continue charging consumers on their landline bills on the pretense they were intending to make infrastructure upgrades.  Where did all the money go if the upgrades were never made?  Kushnick writes that this was not only happening in California, but throughout the country where Verizon and AT&T represented the state’s utility in telecommunications.  The so-called legalized-corruption-101 cost US consumers across America hundreds of billions of dollars in supposed upgrades that were never made.  In short, Verizon and AT&T were raising prices and applying fees on landline customers for what they told their regulatory agencies were necessary to make upgrades – which they never made in low-income neighborhoods.  Side note, the US is ranked 28th out of all developed countries in fiber-optic deployment.

The Covid pandemic revealed the scale and impact these upgrades – that were never made – had on consumers and our way of life.  At least 2 million children in California could not attend school due to lack of quality Internet Service from the home during the pandemic.  

Diversion and Distraction

In 2021, Verizon’s Rudy Reyes testified before the California Senate’s committee on telecommunications, from what I had originally thought was an expert, unbiased perspective.  Quickly I learned that not only was he not unbiased, but he was there to advocate for a wireless bill, with the absolute support and deference from Committee Chair Senator Hueso.  Mr. Reyes said it was “the municipalities who were exacerbating the digital divide” across the state, not Verizon.  The bill that Mr. Reyes was advocating for, would give wireless companies like Verizon – unfettered, unregulated, unpermitted access to poles, antennas and other structures for the purpose of mass proliferation wireless technologies.  Fortunately, Governor Newsom vetoed this bill.

Not Bamboozled

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the wireless industry’s dream-come-true bill, in the name of closing the digital divide.  The problem with caving to wireless industry demands, be it for noble reasons or not – history dictates, consumers will lose.  The passage of L.A. County ordinance modifications under Title 16 and 22 are no exception.  Influential advocates atop L.A.’s digital divide strategists, acknowledge the inferiority of wireless and promise that it is only “temporary” until the fiber can be built.  This became the talk-point, as the inferiority of wireless was indisputable and begged the question: After it taking a worldwide shutdown vis-à-vis the Covid pandemic to even acknowledge that low-income families deserved quality Internet Service, why are we ready to marry them to the bottom rung on the technology ladder (by giving them wireless) for at least the next 10 years? 

Billions and billions of dollars in federal grants are on the table to upgrade America’s telecommunication infrastructure BECAUSE OF THE VERY PEOPLE the L.A. County Board of Supervisors have now fated to wireless inferiority.  Fiber-optics is 10,000 times faster than wireless.  Wireless represents a safety issue: the biological harms that will come to small children, the elderly, our disabled population represent, I believe, a tragedy greater than that of the Exide tragedy in East Los Angeles.  It took us 20 years to realize that mistake.  How many children will have to be harmed, over what period of time before L.A. County Board of Supervisors realize this wireless industry giveaway is also, a mistake. 

Everything about wireless technologies being safe is predicated on a 26-year-old standard that has not been updated to reflect current wireless activity in the world today.  The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has determined radio frequency radiation (RFR) – the invisible communication beams of wireless transmissions – is safe on the pretense that if a person does not burst into flames as RFR passes through their body – all is good.  More than 1,000 independent studies have concluded there is significant negative biological effect on the human body when RFR’s pass through our body 24 hours a day.  Basic common sense tells us that of course there will be disruption to our highly sophisticated, highly sensitive central nervous system as thousands of RFR’s pass through it.  In an August 13, 2021 United States Court of Appeals Landmark case the justices concluded that the FCC did not follow the rule of law when setting wireless safety standards.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors’ decision to prioritize wireless over fiber-optics cuts-short both economic and workforce development opportunities by precluding investment in infrastructure.  When the box “served” is checked by way of inferior wireless connectivity to the Internet, we lose access to federal BEAD dollars for fiber-optic build.

One might think this a sick joke, but the first phase of this plan has already been delivered.  Unless the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors by some miraculous cleansing of conscience can do an about face on this issue, these neighborhoods will never see fiber-optic connectivity to the Internet.  This despite the fact the federal government created and committed the money specifically for them – in the first place. 

Positive and Immediate Options Available In Our Neighborhoods – Now

Closing the digital divide means getting people immediate quality Internet access and training.  Investments in partnering with local schools, libraries and worksource centers should immediately be made to provide immediate access to the Internet for families living in the digital divide.  Schools, libraries and worksource centers have a rich resource of state-of-the-art-technology in virtually every neighborhood throughout the state of California – particularly Los Angeles County.  With the support of technical assistance advisors given the title Digital Navigators, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors can provide immediate access and training to families living in the digital divide.

The order of the day must be to expeditiously commence and complete a fiber-optic build in the neighborhoods that have been identified by the County of Los Angeles as high-need.  We can and must start the fiber build – now!

Larry Ortega
November 18, 2022