Utility undergrounding is done under California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) "Rule 20". You can learn more about the Rule 20 programs here: http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/General.aspx?id=4403
PG&E also has a good information page which includes an overview of the different types of projects, plus a list of the pending Rule 20A projects, at https://www.pge.com/en_US/residential/c ... ogram.page
The challenge for communications utilities is that while the undergrounding cost for the electric
portion is paid for by ratepayers via an approx 2% surcharge on your electric bill, communication provider costs are not
covered for Rule 20A projects. And because these projects involve a big trench for the electric system, the overall project cost is very, very high. And based upon the way that costs in these projects is allocated
, a communications provider ends up paying between 17% and 25% of the cost of the entire undergrounding project.
The irony is that the cost is mostly the trench infrastructure itself; inclusion of communications conduits during the back-fill is not a large cost driver. Participation in the project by communications providers like Sonic doesn't change much the overall cost - but covering the project cost isn't feasible for modern, non-monopoly carriers. Put another way, this made more sense when all utility rates were regulated and we had a telephone, cable-tv and electric monopoly: the CPUC governed the utility rates, and allowed them to recover the cost of undergrounding via the rate-setting mechanism. This no longer makes sense in a modern, post-monopoly utility world.
As a result, it is currently our expectation that if and when utilities are moved underground in a neighborhood, that we will likely stop providing service in that area.
There is a regulatory rulemaking underway now (R.17-05-010
) at the CPUC that could include communications providers in the undergrounding Rule 20A cost allocation, and that outcome is certainly something we have been and will continue to advocate for. Comments in that proceeding can be filed until January 11th, but current guidance from the CPUC is that they're not looking for significant changes to the program (emphasis below is mine.)"Pursuant to that schedule, comments on the
issues identified by the scoping memo and party proposals for “improvements to the
Rule 20A program that may be implemented on a near-term basis” are to be filed and
served by December 21, 2018 (extended to January 11th, 2019). Section 4 of the
Scoping Memo states the solicited proposals “may include modifications to credit and
project tracking and reporting, contract terms, or the re-allocation of unused credits
from cities without active undergrounding programs. We will not entertain large
structural changes to the program at this time.”
That said caveat being said, consumers can participate in and comment on CPUC proceedings, so if you are interested in the outcome of this rulemaking, that is a worth considering. There are a couple options, but the easiest is to file informal comments, here is a guide on that process: http://consumers.cpuc.ca.gov/written_informal_comments/
Please note that if you email comments, be sure to include the proceeding number, R1705010 with your comments to make sure that they are properly routed.
Other useful materials on this topic:An Updated Study on the Undergrounding of Overhead Power LinesCPUC Undergrounding PresentationProgram Review / California Overhead Conversion Program, 2011-2015