Tag Archives: ccbc

Regional economy depends on infrastructure, particularly fiber and conduit

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More broadband equals more work and fewer cars on the road.

“The most important infrastructure for the future is fast, reliable internet connectivity”, said Bud Colligan, co-chair of the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) as he opened a day long conference on the state of the region’s economy. He said that incumbent telephone and cable companies have a big role to play in that, but “it is in our public interest to have a level playing field with robust competition”.

Broadband is intertwined with other infrastructure problems. Rebuilding or expanding roads, for example, offers an opportunity to put conduit in the ground. Colligan said MBEP would be working to make sure that dig once policies developed by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium – under consideration now by several local agencies – are approved and implemented by every city and county in the region.

Some – both the City and the County of Santa Cruz, for example – have adopted those policies, but actually getting broadband conduit into open trenches is still a challenge. “There’s a tremendous problem because the budgets for the roads don’t include any money for conduit, even though it’s so inexpensive”, said Peggy Dolgenos, CEO of Cruzio, a local Internet service provider, pointing out that it’s as much about transportation as it is about telecoms. “One of our goals is to get 3,000 people off the roads…one of the ways we’re trying to do it is better broadband”, she said.

“I urge all the elected officials in the room, it’s something that you all have to ask for in every meeting”, Colligan concluded. “If we’re not making this minimal investment right now…then we’re really being penny wise and pound foolish”.

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

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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.

Projects, policies and plans for broadband development on California’s central coast

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Broadband projects and policy are moving ahead on California’s central coast. That was my message to a meeting with elected officials from Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, convened in June by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC).

The project with the biggest impact on the region is the middle mile link between Santa Cruz and Soledad, which is being built by Sunesys and largely paid for by the California Public Utilities Commission via the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

Others include CASF-funded upgrades for Pinnacles Telephone Company in San Benito County and Surfnet in northern Monterey County, municipal dark fiber and conduit systems in Watsonville and Hollister, a city-backed fiber to the premise project in Santa Cruz, a plan for building out fiber infrastructure in unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County and several fixed wireless-based grant proposals for service, primarily in the Salinas Valley.

On the policy side, both the County of and the City of Santa Cruz have approved formal broadband development policies and the City of Salinas and the City of Watsonville have adopted the practice of installing conduit in city street projects.

Looking ahead, the CCBC has a list of 12 high priority projects that were included on a list of statewide priorities adopted by the CPUC. Half of the communities targeted are in the Salinas Valley, where 100,000 people lack access to broadband service that meets the minimum standards set by the CPUC. That’s a huge challenge for the cities – Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield and King City – affected, as well as several unincorporated communities. It’s a challenge that’s top of mind for the CCBC too.

Download my presentation here (about 9 MB)

A skeptical eye finds more broadband opportunities

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The California Public Utilities Commission collects a mountain of data from Internet service providers, and does a good job of sorting it out and publishing it in a very accessible way. But as a state regulatory agency, the CPUC can’t arbitrarily decide which claims it’ll believe and which it’ll discount. So it runs tests.

Ryan Dulin, the head of the CPUC division that regulates telecoms companies and manages broadband infrastructure subsidies through the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), demonstrated how that works for mobile broadband, running a speed test on his Verizon service during his presentation at a broadband conference for local government officials. The result was 4 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. Which is just a teeny bit different from the service report Verizon submitted to the commission, claiming it delivers somewhere between 10 Mbps and 25 Mbps download speeds in Riverside, where the event – organised by the California Emerging Technology Fund – was held this week.

It highlighted the need to drill further down into the data and do on-site verification, if local agencies and independent Internet service providers want to pursue CASF-subsidised broadband projects. When my turn to speak came, I showed how a couple of analytical techniques that I’ve helped develop – along with colleagues from several regional broadband consortia – that highlights where local broadband gaps and opportunities can be found.

One was the broadband report card analysis I initially ran for the East Bay Broadband Consortium, which grades the broadband infrastructure in neighborhoods, cities and counties on an A-B-C-D-F scale. The other was a broadband opportunity heat map, which highlights areas that are eligible for CASF funding according to population density – from red, which means lots of potential customers, down to green which means not so much. The Central Coast Broadband Consortium was the first to use that technique to identify broadband development priority areas.

The key is to focus on primary wireline network operators – incumbent cable and telephone companies, mostly – and ignore, at least initially, what wireless companies and resellers claim to deliver. That helps policy makers and entrepreneurs figure out what’s actually on the poles and in the ground, and set priorities for broadband investment.

Saving the environment doesn’t have to mean choking off local infrastructure and economic growth

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You can protect the coast without littering it with red tape.

To keep Santa Cruz’s tech economy growing, basic infrastructure has to get better. Broadband is a big part of it, but so is housing, transportation and office space. A day long conference in Seaside in January – the kick-off event for the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership – brought business and government leaders together from Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties to talk about creating the right conditions for an entrepreneurial culture to grow.

Nearly everyone pointed to the limits imposed by ageing or non-existent infrastructure. It’s a primary barrier – you can’t run a high tech company without high capacity broadband access, for example – but it’s also a necessary first step to overcoming other challenges as well. You need educated and motivated people, and expensive homes and jammed roads make the central coast region unattractive to the talent local companies need most.

Infrastructure improvements, though, are delayed and, sometimes, stopped altogether by challenges made under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), often by people with little or no direct involvement in a project.

“CEQA is being abused by every NIMBY and special interest group across the board,” said Chris Thornberg from Beacon Economics, the conference keynote speaker. Fixing it means doing three things, he said.

“I would not allow anyone who’s not involved to use it,” Thornberg said. “Unions should not be allowed to use CEQA” as a tool in negotiations. Second, “overall, we need to make the entire system much clearer and more transparent.”

Finally, it needs to be drawn back a bit in terms of its power to constrain, Thornberg said. “I think CEQA is a little too weighted in terms of protecting the environment, at the cost of economic growth.”

Safeguarding California’s natural wonders and quality of life is important, but it doesn’t take an endless, byzantine and expensive process to do it.

Central coast leaders dig into broadband

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There’s one big similarity between water and broadband access on California’s central coast: there’s a lot of it close at hand but high cost and low quality make it nearly unusable. That’s how I set up a discussion about broadband at the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) conference in Seaside a couple weeks ago.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium has mapped hundreds of miles of fiber optic lines throughout the region. But most of it, like water in the Pacific Ocean, is too expensive for everyday use. It’s controlled by AT&T, Comcast and, to a lesser extent, Charter Communications, which are in the business of selling managed services – Internet access metered by the bit – and not the fundamental building blocks of broadband, like dark fiber strands.

The panelists – Santa Cruz County supervisor Zach Friend, Cruzio CEO Peggy Dolgenos, Redshift CEO Tony Cricelli and UCSC prof and partnership director Brad Smith – offered good hope for solving the problem.

There’s a project under way to connect Santa Cruz to Soledad with open access fiber, which Smith played a big role in bringing about. Friend is pushing broadband development reforms for the county. Both Dolgenos and Cricelli are building locally owned broadband infrastructure, in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties respectively, that’ll benefit from the new fiber backbone. And from the policies advocated by Friend – county and city governments across the region are looking at adopting their own versions.

Matching the wealth of broadband resources that Silicon Valley takes for granted is a difficult job. But it’s just difficult. Local broadband companies and advocates are doing it, and their enthusiastic reception by regional business and government leaders at the MBEP conference shows they’ll have plenty of help along the way.

Local fiber maps unlock opportunities on California’s central coast

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A lot of fiber is installed along California’s central coast. But most of it is locked up by incumbent telephone and cable companies, and not available to local businesses and independent Internet service providers. The Central Coast Broadband Consortium, with a grant from the California Public Utilities Commission via the California Advanced Services Fund, mapped both long haul and local last mile fiber in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito Counties.

Most of the locally accessible fiber is owned by AT&T, Comcast and Charter Communications. There are exceptions, particularly in the City of Santa Cruz, but there is little opportunity to lease dark fiber or otherwise unbundle the more lucrative managed service that incumbent cable and telephone companies prefer to sell.

Even so, knowing where the fiber is and who to talk to about it is valuable information for economic development professionals and entrepreneurs. Being able to separate out which fiber might be directly accessible and which isn’t allows start-ups to make hard projections about costs and connections to markets. It also puts a value (or not) on commercial real estate: fiber connectivity is as essential to 21st century businesses as water, sewer or electrical service.

The CCBC will be putting up a website that includes this data, as well as other information its collected about local broadband resources and demand. For now, though, the source data is available in KML files. You can click on the links below for specific fiber maps, or you can go to the City of Watsonville’s FTP site and browse all the maps, data sets and images that the CCBC has published.

Click to download the source data…

Long haul fiber routes
Compressed (KMZ) version

Santa Cruz County fiber networks
Compressed (KMZ) version

Monterey County fiber networks
Compressed (KMZ) version

San Benito County fiber networks
Compressed (KMZ) version

CCBC data hosted by the City of Watsonville (FTP site)

CPUC approves broadband priorities developed by Central Coast Broadband Consortium

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Twelve central coast communities have been designated as priority areas for broadband infrastructure development by the California Public Utilities Commission. In a unanimous vote on Thursday, 26 June 2014, commissioners endorsed the list presented in March by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, following a month-long workshop on Civinomics.com.

The Pleasure Point/Twin Lakes neighborhood down coast from the City of Santa Cruz, the Brookdale area in the mountains and the town of Soquel made the list, along with Aromas, two rural areas outside of Hollister and six Salinas Valley communities: Castroville, Chualar, Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield and King City.

The Civinomics workshop focused on developing a quantitative ranking system. In the end, the primary criteria used were social and economic impact, project feasibility and, crucially, availability of broadband service. The more homes that don’t have access to service that meets the CPUC’s minimum standard of 6 Mbps download/1.5 Mbps upload speed, the greater the likelihood that grants and loans to build modern infrastructure will be available from the California Advanced Services Fund.

And that’s the other half of what commissioners approved on Thursday. A new round of CASF project proposals will begin in December. Existing broadband providers – Comcast, Charter and AT&T, in particular – were put on notice. Either they make a commitment to the commission that they’ll upgrade the substandard service in those communities or face subsidised competition from ISPs who will.

Being on the list doesn’t guarantee funding (nor does not being on the list preclude it). But the CPUC has already invested $11 million in building a fiber optic backbone from Santa Cruz to Soledad, and would like nothing better than to see it used to deliver gigabit-class service to homes and businesses here.

Constructive ideas (mostly) offered for Californian broadband subsidy plan

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Except for a couple of not so veiled threats of legal action, the comments submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission regarding a new plan to re-start the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) program were generally positive, with few specific recommendations for changes. The nastiness came from the cable industry’s lobbyists in Sacramento – the California Cable and Telecommunications Association – and Verizon (more on that tomorrow).

Comments from other incumbent telephone companies – with the glaring exception of AT&T, which didn’t submit any – were more nuanced. A group of 13 small rural telephone companies filed a joint letter asking for some useful clarifications regarding current procedures – essentially checking to make sure nothing else was changing – and asking for more than the 6 months proposed to upgrade underserved areas, given that many of them serve mountain communities where precious little construction work can happen in the designated October to April timeframe. Frontier Communications, another primarily rural telco, also wants more time, if federal grants are involved.

Several regional broadband consortia weighed in. I’ve already written about the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s submission, which was done jointly with Central Sierra Connect. Representatives from the Redwood Coast, the Connected Capitol and LA County consortia filed comments along the same lines, going into greater detail about key issues like affordability, accountability of incumbents and competing applicants alike and the status of tribal governments. Four other consortia – Inland Empire, Upstate, Eastern Sierra and Tahoe – asked to add more communities to the priority list included in the draft resolution.

The CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates made several recommendations – not dissimilar to those submitted by consortia – that would make it harder for incumbents to “game the system” and prevent competitors from getting CASF subsidies.

Finally, Tom West, who is now the manager of the North Coast consortium but filed comments as an individual, took issue with the way the commission determines if a given area is eligible for CASF funding. That is indeed a serious issue, but it’s way outside the scope of the new draft rules that are on the table – it’s a separate problem.

Anyone can submit reply comments, but if you’re interested, do it fast – those are due on Monday.

Draft resolution proposing new CASF rules, 27 May 2014

Senate Bill 740, as signed by Governor Brown

Comments from…

Central Coast Broadband Consortia and Central Sierra Connect

California Cable & Telecommunications Association

California Center for Rural Policy/Redwood Coast RBC

CPUC Office of Ratepayer Advocates

Frontier Communications

Inland Empire Regional Broadband Consortium

Kern River Valley Revitalization/Eastern Sierra Connect RBC

Los Angeles County Regional Broadband Consortia

Rural telephone companies

Tahoe Basin Project

Tom West/North Bay/North Coast RBC

Upstate California Connect Consortium

Valley Vision/Connected Capital Area RBC

Verizon

Good intentions shouldn’t be good enough to preempt Californian broadband projects

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Yeah. Right.

A proposal to start taking applications again for broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is generating a healthy debate. Today was the deadline to submit opening comments to the California Public Utilities Commission on new draft rules and a schedule for CASF grant and loan applicants. The responses are still coming in, but so far the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates and one telephone company, Frontier, have submitted comments – more on them later – as have several regional broadband consortia.

Including the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, of which I’m a part, and Central Sierra Connect. I wrote our comments, which focused on language in the draft rules that would have, in effect, allowed incumbent ISPs – large or small – to effectively shut down CASF subsidy applications in their service areas for a year. When the California legislature approved extra money and expanded eligibility for CASF last year, in senate bill 740, it gave ISPs a right of first refusal over broadband upgrade projects. The draft of the new rules, though, allowed ISPs to exercise that right of first refusal, without needing to follow through. To fix that

We recommend that the Commission require incumbents who exercise their right of first refusal to meet the same standards that any CASF applicant would have to meet, including submission of project budgets, schedules, technical plans, the posting of a performance bond and acquiescence to the jurisdiction of the Commission in all respects. Such a change would bring the Draft into compliance with SB 740 which requires an incumbent who exercises a right of first refusal to “demonstrate to the commission that it will, within a reasonable timeframe, upgrade existing service”.

On the whole, the proposed new rules for CASF are a considerable improvement, allowing grant and loan applications to be filed as soon as 1 October 2014 and continuing on a quarterly basis through 2015. Making sure that incumbents can’t make mischief by exploiting loopholes would make it just about perfect.

Draft resolution proposing new CASF rules, 27 May 2014

Senate Bill 740, as signed by Governor Brown

ROLLING UPDATE: more comments are coming in, so far from the cable industry’s lobbyists – the California Cable & Telecommunications Association – Verizon and small rural telephone companies. Flames aplenty. See below…

Comments from…

Central Coast Broadband Consortia and Central Sierra Connect

California Cable & Telecommunications Association

California Center for Rural Policy/Redwood Coast RBC

CPUC Office of Ratepayer Advocates

Frontier

Inland Empire Regional Broadband Consortium

Kern River Valley Revitalization/Eastern Sierra Connect RBC

Los Angeles County Regional Broadband Consortia

Rural telephone companies

Tahoe Basin Project

Tom West/North Bay/North Coast RBC

Upstate California Connect Consortium

Valley Vision/Connected Capital Area RBC

Verizon