CPUC approves $1.8 million for “fiber to the vacation cabin”

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No phone, no water, no power, no people. But wicked fast email.

“I’m a big supporter of fiber to the home, but fiber to the vacation cabin is a different thing”, said commissioner Michel Florio as he argued against giving a $1.8 million grant to the Ponderosa Telephone Company to build broadband infrastructure in a remote area of Madera County. His fellow commissioners did not agree, though, and the project was approved on a 4 to 1 vote.

The money, from the California Advanced Services Fund, will pay about 60% of the cost of building an FTTH system in Beasore and Central Camp, two communities in the Sierra National Forest that are tiny in the summer and all but uninhabited in the winter. The debate has focused on how much the California Public Utilities Commission would be spending per household, if it moved ahead. There was no clear answer to the question, but based on the information presented, it looks like the number is closer to the $55,000 figure that’s based on the 2010 census, rather than the $11,000 that Ponderosa claimed.

If you reckon a household as being a place where people live year-round.

Florio despatched a staffer to Madera County earlier this week to take a look. He came back with photos that showed that the area is all but closed down for the winter. Many of the “housing units” claimed by Ponderosa are tightly boarded up one room cabins, without electricity or indoor plumbing. Much of the area is only accessible by snowmobile. But if you count all that, then the cost per home probably is nearer the $11,000 claimed by Ponderosa. Which is still more than the previous CASF subsidy limit of $10,000 per household.

The other commissioners had mixed reasons for supporting the subsidy, ranging from president Michael Peevey’s what-else-will-we-do-with-the-money comments to commissioner Carla Peterman’s less than enthusiastic acceptance of a public safety argument (there’s no mobile phone service either), despite her doubts that the CPUC will “get the most bang for the buck”. Going forward, she said she wanted the commission to be proactive about finding areas with fundable broadband needs, rather than just waiting to see what proposals come in.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted with several CASF proposals in the current round, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

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.