Comcast and AT&T filed an objection to block $14 million in state money set to improve Oakland’s high-speed internet. The companies claim that broadband infrastructure already exists. However, city data and user experience suggest otherwise.
Alameda County received $24.5 billion in “last mile” broadband connectivity funding, $14 million for Oakland. Comcast and AT&T said these areas already have acceptable broadband speeds. Schools and students in East Oakland report slow speed test results lower than what the companies advertise as fast internet, frozen screens, and lagging video, according to The Mercury News.
Comcast and AT&T were not available for comment.
Earlier this year, California officials approved spending billions to “bridge middle-mile” gaps in broadband coverage throughout the state. Oakland was one area approved for funding through Oakland Connect, but plans to build infrastructure more expansively previously approved were reversed in a move dependant on data-driven maps officials admitted in emails to The Mercury News were flawed.
California is working to get more underfunded communities online through FFA grant programs. The funding issues money to companies to expand broadband infrastructure and provide internet access to remote, rural, and urban communities with limited internet access.
However, some areas most in need of funding aren’t getting it, said city official Patrick Messac in an interview with The Mercury News.
“They fund deployment in these really wealthy areas where there’s no oversight,” said Messac.
Digital equity experts say Oakland’s funding was disproportionately slashed, equivalent to a “good old-fashioned redlining,” because there aren’t enough subscribers in the area for service providers to make a profit.
“The maps rely on data about broadband infrastructure provided mostly by the ISPs themselves and do not consider factors such as affordability of service and income levels, resulting in a picture of the digital divide that does not match the reality on the ground, particularly in urban areas,” said Tony Batalla, Oakland’s technology chief.
Patricia Wells, head of the Oakland Housing Authority, advocates at the state level to make internet access a fixed utility. Oakland’s authority board also approved a pilot program to provide free WiFi access to residents in the city’s four largest public housing communities.
California Public Utilities Commission, an agency responsible for distributing state funds for high-speed internet upgrades, will decide on Comcast and AT&T’s objections in the coming weeks.