CPUC awards first broadband infrastructure subsidy to an independent ISP

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

Two small Monterey County last mile projects are now proof of concept for both a key assumption and a major change for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

Proposed by Surfnet Communications, Inc. and approved unanimously last week by the California Public Utilities Commission, the Monterey Dunes and Paradise Road projects validated the assumption that underpinned spending $10.6 million on a fiber link from Santa Cruz south through Monterey County to Soledad: that building middle mile links will lead to faster, cheaper and more reliable last mile service in underserved areas.

Although the Surfnet projects will only reach about 400 homes, it demonstrated that there is a market for dark fiber in the Salinas Valley, where 100,000 people lack access to the CPUC’s minimum standard of 6 Mbps download/1.5 Mbps upload speeds. That was a major difference between the successful Salinas Valley grant application and the failed Golden Bear middle mile proposal in northern California, which had no last mile element.

Surfnet is also the first CASF applicant to be approved without first qualifying for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) as a regulated telephone company. New rules adopted by the CPUC in February, as authorised by a new law – senate bill 740 – last year, set strict standards for Internet service providers that don’t fit the traditional telco mold.

However, a lower entry bar appears to mean tougher scrutiny going forward, as commissioner Carla Peterman noted. “These funds are one of the first going to non-CPCN holders”, she said. “So I’d like to emphasise that the monitoring of non-CPCN holders should receive by us under these is important”.

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