Golden Bear versus everyone else in Californian broadband subsidy competition

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Pondering options as the game dwindles away.

Counting just the money that’ll be available over the next couple of years, there’s about $107 million left in the CASF grant kitty, give or take. The remaining grant applications total $178 million, making it likely that some will be denied or drastically reduced. One proposal – the Golden Bear middle mile project in the northern end of the state – accounts for $119 million of that, which leads to three possible scenarios…

  • Most or all of the fourteen other pending projects, totalling $59 million, will be funded, likely leaving too little for Golden Bear to be viable.
  • Golden Bear is funded, somewhere in the $80 to $100 million range, knocking most of the rest off the table.
  • The CPUC adds the additional $70 million approved by the legislature earlier this year to the pot. Since that money will be collected sometime after 2015, project timelines will be drawn out.

So far, the timing of CPUC grant approvals has depended to a large extent on the complexity and contentiousness of proposals. The first batch of ten approved grant applications were relatively simple ones that did not attract much in the way of formal protests from competing providers. Golden Bear is a complicated project that has attracted a storm of challenges from incumbents, which is likely to push it farther back in line. Which would leave commissioners with a choice between effectively denying it or spending most of the newly approved CASF money on it over the next five years or so.

There’s another possibility: the Golden Bear project is rejected in its current form, then later broken up or otherwise drastically scaled back, potentially allowing it to be built (or not) in more manageable chunks over time. That would disappoint project backers and make it less likely to reach the most remote corners of California’s far north. But it’s something, which might be more palatable than the all or nothing choice on the table now. Particularly since “nothing” seems the likeliest result.

CASF applications and approved projects, as of 31 October 2013.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted with several CASF proposals in the current round, including some still under consideration, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.