More trouble for Sierra Nevada broadband grant proposals

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Another challenge has been filed against the applications submitted by Cal.net for broadband infrastructure grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Conifer Communications – another wireless Internet service provider in the Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley – served notice yesterday that it objected, at least in part, to Cal.net’s plans to serve Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties. It’s the second formal objection to the projects made public; a group of rural telcos filed the first last week.

The challenge is interesting because it highlights some of the problems with evaluating service claims made by WISPs, particularly in rugged, tree-lined mountain terrain. All I have to go on is what’s on Conifer’s website – they didn’t provide details in the notice they circulated – but their service map does appear to overlap some, but not all, of the areas included in Cal.net’s Amador – Calaveras – Alpine and Tuolumne – Mariposa project proposals.

On the other hand, Conifer only mentions three tower locations on its website and cautions prospective customers that “our first step our two man team will do is confirm a wireless line-of-sight to one of the Conifer Communications towers”. Given that Cal.net’s project area includes some very mountainous territory in the Sierra, the chances that three towers – apparently located in the foothills – will deliver comprehensive coverage are slim. Caveat: I haven’t seen Cal.net’s network design and it might or might not be equally problematic. I don’t know.

Price is another consideration. Conifer only offers one residential package that meets the CPUC’s 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up standard, a 10 Mbps down and up service that costs $140 a month. They do have one that comes close – 5 Mbps down and up – for $100. Cal.net’s rural rate card offers a 6 Mbps down/2 Mbps package at $70 a month. Which is less than Conifer charges but still more expensive than the service most Californians can buy. Another caveat: Cal.net might or might not have proposed lower prices for CASF-subsidised service.