Fiber middle mile link proposed for small California mountain community

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The tiny eastern California community of Kennedy Meadows could be in line for a broadband capacity upgrade. The Ducor Telephone Company is asking the California Public Utilities Commission for $1.6 million from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to build a fiber line from Kennedy Meadows to the Digital 395 route that runs along the eastern side of the Sierra, between Reno and Barstow.

According to the publicly available summary, Ducor’s microwave link has hit capacity and there’s no practical way to improve it…

Currently, network facilities serving the region cannot deliver acceptable levels of broadband service. The existing facilities consist of a, small capacity, triple hop, microwave radio system. This ageing microwave equipment has been manufacturer-discontinued, which means spare parts are becoming increasingly difficult to procure. Third party vendors are becoming increasingly unreliable. Additionally, replacing the MW equipment is no longer an option as sufficient FCC-issued spectrum is not available.

The summary is long on sad stories, but short on service plans and demographic details. It’s clear, though, that the number of homes it will reach is small. The CPUC’s database lists 36 homes in the general area. Assuming all are covered by the upgrade, it amounts to a subsidy of $65,000 per household. That’s generally in the same range as Ponderosa Telephone’s Cressman project, which was approved last year.

Another detail that’s not mentioned is exactly what kind of improved service local residents can expect, and at what cost. The application is just for a middle mile project, and it doesn’t mention any upgrades for the last mile infrastructure. Currently, Ducor provides 1990s grade DSL service in Kennedy Meadows, with download speeds below 1.5 Mbps. Part of the reason for the slow service is sure to be the current microwave bottleneck, but if the plan is to use the existing legacy DSL infrastructure, then expected speeds won’t be much better than the 6 down/1.5 up minimum CASF standard. It’s certainly possible something better is planned, but if it is, Ducor isn’t talking about it.

About Steve Blum

Steve Blum is president of Tellus Venture Associates, a management, planning and business development consultancy for municipal and community broadband initiatives. He is a 30-year industry veteran and an expert in developing new broadband infrastructure and services, including wireless, fiber optic and satellite systems.

His career includes playing key roles in the launch and growth of DirecTv in the U.S., as well as other satellite broadcasting platforms around the world. For the past ten years, he has helped build municipal wireless and fiber optic broadband systems. His client list includes many California cities, such as San Leandro, Palo Alto, Oakland, Los Angeles, Lompoc and Folsom. He’s a member of the executive team for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and has worked with other regional consortia in California.

Steve is the author of seven books on the Internet and satellite broadcasting and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and industry events. He holds an A.B. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in East Asia Studies from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. He is a triathlete and multiple Ironman finisher, and is currently ranked in the top 100 of the Challenge Triathlon world rankings, out of more than 30,000 athletes.