Santa Cruz to Soledad fiber optic network shifts course, makes progress

Work on an independent fiber route that will run from Santa Cruz to Watsonville, and then on through Salinas to Soledad is moving ahead. So far it’s just paperwork that’s getting done, but that’s the part of the project that takes the most time. Originally proposed in 2013 and awarded a $10.6 million subsidy (out of a total cost of $13.3 million) by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2014, the network owner, Sunesys, LLC, spent a year obtaining environmental clearances and is now negotiating construction permits with the cities and counties along the way.

One change in the route will make a big difference to Cabrillo College and, potentially, businesses on a half mile stretch of Soquel Drive west of the college. As first designed, the fiber path followed Soquel Drive from Highway 1 near Dominican Hospital to just before Cabrillo College, where it jumped back over the freeway to take advantage of an existing, and relatively inexpensive, utility pole route. After discussions with the school and urging from local officials, particularly Aptos supervisor Zach Friend, Sunesys agreed to adjust the route so that it extends an extra mile along Soquel Drive.

You can explore the route via the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s interactive fiber map. Click on the advanced button, and go to the Layers tab. Under the Utility heading, select “Sunesys segments”. It’s a middle mile network, which means it isn’t meant to directly serve end users, except for very large ones like Cabrillo or U.C. Santa Cruz. Instead, the business plan calls for local Internet service providers to lease capacity on the system – the wholesale cost is very low, due to the CPUC subsidy – and then build out retail connections to businesses and, perhaps, homes.

The official schedule calls for the network to light up in about a year and half, but so far there have been no roadblocks and an earlier start date is possible.