$170 million in California broadband subsidy proposals await decisions

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The latest update from the California Public Utilities Commission shows that 12 projects are still in the hunt for subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Eleven projects, totalling $30 million in grants and $41,000 in loans, have been approved. Nine have either been rejected by commission staff or are on hold.

One of the pending projects – a $1 million DSL upgrade proposed by Ponderosa Telephone Company in Fresno County – is due for a vote by the commission next week. The other 11 nominally total out to be $170 million in grants and $1.5 million in loans. The Golden Bear middle mile project in far northern California accounts for most of it – $119 million – and appears to be on very shaky ground. If you set it aside, there’s ample money in CASF to fund the remainder, if all were to qualify.

Three fiber-to-the-home projects – Race Communications in Mojave and California City, and Surfnet in the Santa Cruz mountains – were killed or stalled because incumbent cable companies had enough warning to upgrade their systems, making the areas involved ineligible for funding. Two applications submitted by Etheric Networks were incomplete and one from Cal.net was for information only. No reason was given for rejecting the other three.

All of these projects were submitted to the commission nearly a year ago, on 1 February 2013. Telephone and cable companies were given an opportunity to challenge the proposals, on the basis that they were providing service of at least 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up in the areas involved. It’s taken all this time to sift through those claims and review the business plans and technical details of the surviving applications. Final decisions for some could be months away.

About Steve Blum

Steve Blum is president of Tellus Venture Associates, a management, planning and business development consultancy for municipal and community broadband initiatives. He is a 30-year industry veteran and an expert in developing new broadband infrastructure and services, including wireless, fiber optic and satellite systems. His career includes playing key roles in the launch and growth of DirecTv in the U.S., as well as other satellite broadcasting platforms around the world. For the past ten years, he has helped build municipal wireless and fiber optic broadband systems. His client list includes many California cities, such as San Leandro, Palo Alto, Oakland, Los Angeles, Lompoc and Folsom. He’s a member of the executive team for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and has worked with other regional consortia in California. Steve is the author of seven books on the Internet and satellite broadcasting and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and industry events. He holds an A.B. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in East Asia Studies from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. He is a triathlete and multiple Ironman finisher, and is currently ranked in the top 100 of the Challenge Triathlon world rankings, out of more than 30,000 athletes.