49 California counties chasing broadband gold

15 February 2012 by Steve Blum
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The California Public Utilities Commission approved funding for seven more regional broadband consortia this morning. That brings the total to fourteen consortia representing 49 counties.

All five of the commissioners voted in favor of the grants. In contrast to the first round of funding, this second round vote did not generate any debate. The criteria and conditions that the commission laid out in December 2011 were deemed satisfied.

In line with the goals established by the CPUC, the consortia are focused on building and deploying broadband facilities in unserved and underserved areas of California, improving access to and knowledge of the broadband resources that are already available to Californians, and promoting greater adoption of broadband services.
Some of the groups, for example the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and Redwood Coast Connect, are well established within their local communities and are moving ahead with deployment and adoption projects. Others are in the organizational phase. Their focus in the first year of the program will be to pull together local leaders and broadband champions into a regional organization that can achieve the goals set by the CPUC.
The consortia program is paid for by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which has total funding of $225 million authorized by the California legislature. Of that, lawmakers set aside $10 million for regional broadband groups. The rest of the money, for the most part, goes towards building broadband infrastructure in areas of California that lack it. Some of that money has already been spent, but most of it remains available for eligible projects. The program is managed by the CPUC.
The fourteen consortia cover diverse geographic regions. In urban areas where infrastructure exists, albeit not always to a sufficient level, the emphasis will be on promoting broadband adoption in communities where the digital divide sometimes seems insurmountable.
The benchmark for these efforts is the Get Connected program developed by the California Emerging Technology Fund. The consortia program is the result of years of work by CETF. Its CEO, Sunne Wright McPeak, and staff led a successful effort to bring existing regional broadband groups into a statewide organization and to foster new groups in areas that hadn’t yet produced their own.
There’s a different challenge in rural areas. Broadband infrastructure is frequently ten or twenty years behind that in more densely populated areas, and sometimes doesn’t exist at all. Most of the focus of the CASF infrastructure grant and loan program is on underserved and unserved areas of California. Consortia representing predominantly rural areas will be putting proportionately greater effort into broadband deployment projects.

Tellus Venture Associates managed the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s successful grant application and advises several cities that are members of the East Bay Broadband Consortium, the City of Los Angeles and other municipal and community broadband projects around California.