California broadband subsidy approved for Mother Lode WISP

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Calaveras County won’t be limited to traditional forms of entertainment.

Nearly 5,000 households in Calaveras and Amador counties, along with a few in Alpine County, will be offered faster wireless broadband service, at a minimum of 6 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload speeds, and ranging up to 25 Mbps download and 4 Mbps upload speeds. At least that’s the plan as presented to the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, as it approved a $2.9 million construction grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to a local wireless Internet service provider, Cal.net.

Several companies protested the project, including small incumbent telephone companies and another WISP, Conifer Communications. After a lengthy review – it took 590 days for the CPUC to approve the project, 484 more than allowed – some homes were removed from the project boundaries and some money was shaved off the grant request. It’s the third CASF infrastructure grant that Cal.net has won; the other two projects are in El Dorado County.

As with the others, this latest grant will go towards paying for wireless towers and equipment. The plan, according to the CPUC resolution, is to…

…use a variety of technologies to service broadband to end users, which includes Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) equipment for line- of-sight situations, fixed-LTE (a non-mobile variation of the LTE commonly used in cell phones) for near-line-of-sight situations (minor obstructions), and TV White Space in the UHF and upper-VHF bands for heavily-obstructed non-line-of-sight situations.

The resolution doesn’t go into detail, but it’s likely that not all the homes covered by the project will have the full range of speed options available – different technologies and radio bands have different performance and capacity specs.

Prices are well above those offered by fiber-to-the-home projects. Cal.net plans to charge $70 per month for 6 Mbps down/2 Mbps up service, and $160 per month for 25 Mbps down/4 Mbps up. That compares to $25 per month for symmetrical (i.e. the same down and up) 25 Mbps service for a CASF subsidised FTTH project in rural Marin County that was approved by the CPUC in August.