California WISPs win $149 million in FCC broadband subsidy auction

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Internet service providers – most, if not all, wireless – will get $149 million in federal subsidies to serve 52,000 homes and businesses in California over the next 10 years. The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund (CAF 2) auction ended this week. Bidders competed for money to provide broadband service in census blocks bypassed by the main CAF 2 subsidy round in 2015.

Although California didn’t proportionately have as many census blocks and locations on the table as some other states, it came out very well in the bidding, gaining 10% of the total money on offer. The FCC hasn’t released the list of census blocks auctioned off though – all we know so far is the name of the companies, the total dollar amount and the total number of subsidised locations, plus the range of technology and service levels options that the companies might have offered.

Three of the companies are wireless Internet service providers – Cal.net, Geolinks and Hankins Information Technology – and a fourth, Viasat, is a satellite broadband company. Frontier Communications also grabbed a little cash for a couple dozen locations, but it’s not clear what type of technology they’ll be using. They told the FCC that one of their options in California is to deliver Internet service via fixed wireless facilities, but exact details haven’t been posted yet.

Cal.net’s service area centers on Mother Lode counties, and Geolinks is based on the central coast. But that doesn’t mean that’s where the money is going – they could have submitted bids anywhere in California. Hankin is a relatively new and unknown company based in southern Santa Clara County.

Subsidised service levels haven’t been published, either. All three WISPs included “baseline” service – 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speeds – as an option. Cal.net also listed “minimum” – 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up – and “above baseline” – 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up – as possibilities, and Geolinks put “above baseline” on its list too. Frontier filed in all four categories, including “gigabit” – 1 Gbps down/500 Mbps up. Viasat only ticked the “baseline” category, albeit with high latency.

The scorecard reads…

Cal.net, $51 million for 21,000 locations.
Geolinks (aka California Internet), $83 million for 11,000 locations.
Hankins Information Technology, $2 million for 1,000 locations.
Frontier Communications, $52,000 for 23 locations.
Viasat, $14 million for 19,000 locations.