It’s a brand new game for California broadband subsidies

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Expect a different kind of give and take.

Until this week, if you wanted to apply for a grant to build broadband infrastructure in an unserved or poorly served area of California, you could do so with a reasonable expectation that there was enough money in the kitty to cover your request. Not anymore.

Everything changed on Monday when Inyo Networks and Race Telecommunications each filed grant proposals in the $50 million range. That meant that the total amount of pending grant applications is more than the available money in the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

When the California Public Utilities Commission opened the current round of CASF grant applications last December, there was about $160 million available to give out. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less, depending on how much money gets spent on mapping and administrative overhead. Since then, the commission has approved three projects – in Helendale, Wrightwood and Petrolia – bringing the grant account down to about $156 million.

Including the two applications submitted this week, there are 17 projects pending, totalling $173 million, $17 million more than what’s available. There’s also a loan fund, but that’s accounted for separately.

That means that the current grant list will be trimmed, and any new applications that are submitted – the window is still open – will have to be crafted with the increased competition for money in mind.

Two of the pending projects are holdovers from 2013, and one of those – ViaSat for $11 million – seems all but certain to be rejected. That still leaves a deficit of $6 million, with more projects in the pipeline. Whether those prospective applicants decide to move ahead anyway is yet to be determined, but either way, the competition for CASF broadband subsidies isn’t a friendly game of touch anymore. It’s full on tackle football.