Rural telcos challenge Sierra wireless broadband proposals

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Three rural telephone companies are challenging wireless broadband projects in the Sierra Nevada proposed by Cal.net for construction grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

Volcano Telephone Company, Calaveras Telephone Company and Sierra Telephone Company jointly sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission on Friday saying they provide adequate broadband service – at least 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds – to some of the areas targeted by Cal.net in Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado and Mariposa counties.

According to the latest data available – submitted at the end of June 2014 – Volcano and Sierra do claim to provide that level of service or better throughout their service territories, with the possible exception of a couple of census blocks. Calaveras Telephone, on the other hand, reported providing qualifying service in less than two-thirds of its service area. Of course, it might have upgraded its system since then.

It’s hard to tell how much of an impact the challenges would have on Cal.net’s projects if the companies’ claims are correct. There are only a couple of challenged areas included in Cal.net’s Tuolumne-Mariposa project. The challenge doesn’t call out the El Dorado South and East project by name, but does include a couple of areas within it, again a relatively small part of the total.

The Amador-Calaveras-Alpine project might be hit harder, since Calaveras Telephone and Volcano claim to provide service in 35 of the 55 census block groups included in the application. However, Cal.net only intends to serve a fraction of the homes in that area – about 15% – so it’s possible it’s just plugging gaps in the telcos’ coverage.

CPUC staff has to sort out the claims and counter-claims, by requiring site surveys and speed tests if necessary. In the past, some CASF project proposals have been trimmed and even scrapped altogether because incumbents have successfully proved they offer adequate service. Not all challenges succeed, though. It’ll come down to what is actually available on the ground.