California broadband subsidy requests break the bank at more than half a gigabuck

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Butch cassidy explosion

Update, 5 May 2020 08:43: Charter Communications dropped 16 grant applications totalling $17 million in the wee hours of the morning. I’ve updated the table, links and totals below accordingly. Stand by, there might be more to come.

At least 41 broadband infrastructure grant proposals totalling more than half a billion dollars landed at the California Public Utilities Commission yesterday. I say at least because public notifications don’t always get out immediately. There might be more once the dust settles. Most are for fiber to the premise (FTTP) service, with an average subsidy cost of $27,000 per home. The list, with links to project summaries, is below.

There’s something like $300 million, or maybe less, in the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), so not everything proposed will be approved. It’s a new record for CASF, doubling the the $252 million requested in the 2013 round.

The big ask is from Hunter Communications for a $290 million hybrid fiber to the premise/fixed wireless build in Mendocino County. The Oregon-based company characterises its project as “last mile”, but an earlier proposal that the company distributed in April (when the project was a mere $105 million) called for a mix of middle and last mile infrastructure. Judging by yesterday’s summary, the spin and the mileage has changed but not the basic design.

The Mendocino build would be mostly along the U.S. 101 corridor, running the length of Mendocino County, from the Sonoma County line nearly to Humboldt County. It would serve 6,000 homes at a 100% subsidised cost of $49,000 each. About 600 of those homes would be reached by fixed wireless links, so the cost for fibered homes would be more than $50,000 each.

Hunter put in an application for a second project in Humboldt County, in partnership with the Hoopa Valley Public Utilities District. It’s also a hybrid fiber/wireless design, intended to serve 1,300 homes and businesses, mostly in “the highly rural, economically depressed homelands of the Hoopa Valley Tribe”. The subsidy cost is $6,900 per home, or $6,600 per location when businesses and anchor institutions are factored in. Hunter and the Hoopa Valley PUD are asking the CPUC to subsidise 86% of the project cost.

The Mendocino project is not the most expensive build on a per-home basis, though. WiConduit, a newly formed non-profit, put in a $82 million request to build FTTP infrastructure in west Sonoma County, likewise described as last mile, to 1,300 homes at a 100% subsidised cost of $61,000 each.

Frontier Communications is asking for $67 million for ten projects across California, ranging from Lake Isabella in Kern County to Crescent City in Del Norte County. The ten projects will reach 2,700 homes at an average subsidy of $25,000 each. Frontier, which filed for bankruptcy last month, is asking CASF to pay for 100% of the cost.

Plumas Sierra Telecommunications is also requesting 100% funding for six projects in its northeastern California territory. Five of the projects are pure FTTP and one is an FTTP/fixed wireless hybrid. The total comes to $32 million for 1,400 homes, for an average subsidy of $22,000.

Race Telecommunications has four FTTP project proposals on the table, at an 80% subsidy level. It’s asking the CPUC for $22 million to build out to 1,800 households, at an average subsidy of $12,000 each. Race is putting $5.5 million of skin in the game. Two projects are brand new systems in Colusa County; two projects are extensions of existing CASF-subsidised builds in Kern and Nevada counties.

Two pure wireless proposals are in the mix. Etheric Networks is asking for $3.2 million to pay for 60% of the cost of extending its fixed wireless system further into Monterey and San Benito counties, reaching 2,000 homes at a subsidy level of $1,600 each. Web Perception wants $1.5 million to serve 504 homes in Sonoma and Napa counties at $2,900 each, a 100% subsidy cost.

There’s still one project left over from 2019. The Karuk Tribe in Humboldt county applied for an extra $11 million for a middle and last mile project to reach 600 homes, mostly with wireless technology. The CPUC is scheduled to vote on that request on Thursday.

CASF Project Proposals – 4 May 2020 Grant Application Window

Bella VistaCharter$715,35660$11,923ShastaHFC
BrooksideCharter$933,563243$3,842Los AngelesHFC
Country MeadowsCharter$2,165,515314$6,897San BernardinoHFC
Darlene RoadCharter$815,9677$116,567VenturaHFC
El Dorado EstatesCharter$1,477,032276$5,352VenturaHFC
Foothill TerraceCharter$489,513327$1,497Los AngelesHFC
Kingswood EstatesCharter$1,210,006120$10,083PlacerHFC
Los AlisosCharter$1,299,530451$2,881OrangeHFC
Monterey ManorCharter$796,19892$8,654San BernardinoHFC
Mountain ShadowsCharter$2,006,811132$15,203San BernardinoHFC
Oxnard PacificCharter$1,725,964171$10,093VenturaHFC
Plaza VillageCharter$658,436178$3,699OrangeHFC
River OaksCharter$829,46245$18,432San BenitoHFC
Soboda SpringsCharter$983,817249$3,951RiversideHFC
Villa MontclairCharter$548,27964$8,567San BernardinoHFC
Butte YubaDigital Path$872,761582$1,500Butte, YubaWireless
Fresno CountyDigital Path$448,349299$1,499FresnoWireless
Glenn CountyDigital Path$361,500241$1,500GlennWireless
Lake CountyDigital Path$123,00082$1,500LakeWireless
Mendocino CountyDigital Path$138,00092$1,500MendocinoWireless
Plumas LassenDigital Path$865,000577$1,499Plumas, LassenWireless
Sacramento CountyDigital Path$230,000154$1,494SacramentoWireless
Sierra CountyDigital Path$241,000161$1,497SierraWireless
Siskiyou CountyDigital Path$138,00092$1,500SiskiyouWireless
Sutter PlacerDigital Path$418,433277$1,511SutterWireless
Tehama CountyDigital Path$935,976624$1,500TehamaWireless
Central CoastEtheric$3,180,3301,976$1,609Monterey, San BenitoWireless
Crescent CityFrontier$1,586,885134$11,842Del NorteFTTP
CuyamaFrontier$12,462,755131$95,136Kern, Santa BarbaraFTTP
Knights LandingFrontier$4,590,845104$44,143Colusa, Sutter, YoloFTTP
Lake IsabellaFrontier$9,595,168405$23,692KernFTTP
Mad RiverFrontier$8,169,979203$40,246Humboldt, TrinityFTTP
Northeast Phase 2Frontier$10,358,969502$20,635Plumas, TehamaFTTP
Smith RiverFrontier$1,428,47955$25,972Del NorteFTTP
Hoopa ValleyHunter$8,233,3401,198$6,873HumboldtFTTP, wireless
Mendocino CountyHunter$290,327,9405,870$49,460MendocinoFTTP, wireless
Long ValleyPlumas Sierra$4,118,25554$76,264PlumasFTTP
Mohawk ValleyPlumas Sierra$2,271,03954$42,056PlumasFTTP
PortolaPlumas Sierra$2,587,67785$30,443PlumasFTTP
Scott RoadPlumas Sierra$4,307,47588$48,949Lassen, SierraFTTP
Sierra ValleyPlumas Sierra$5,123,342283$18,104Plumas, SierraFTTP, wireless
Southern LassenPlumas Sierra$13,630,662868$15,704LassenFTTP
Gigafy ArbuckleRace$4,241,181480$8,836ColusaFTTP
Gigafy Backus 2Race$4,702,649266$17,679KernFTTP
Gigafy Nevada CityRace$6,154,776499$12,334NevadaFTTP
Gigafy WilliamsRace$6,758,805588$11,495ColusaFTTP
Sonoma/NapaWeb Perception$1,450,697504$2,878Napa. SonomaWireless
West Sonoma CountyWiConduit$81,886,0951,342$61,018SonomaFTTP

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) supported Charter’s San Benito County proposal and assisted Etheric Networks with its application. I assisted the CCBC and also kibitzed on other projects. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.