Tag Archives: calnet

California broadband subsidy approved for Mother Lode WISP

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Calaveras County won’t be limited to traditional forms of entertainment.

Nearly 5,000 households in Calaveras and Amador counties, along with a few in Alpine County, will be offered faster wireless broadband service, at a minimum of 6 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload speeds, and ranging up to 25 Mbps download and 4 Mbps upload speeds. At least that’s the plan as presented to the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, as it approved a $2.9 million construction grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to a local wireless Internet service provider, Cal.net.

Several companies protested the project, including small incumbent telephone companies and another WISP, Conifer Communications. After a lengthy review – it took 590 days for the CPUC to approve the project, 484 more than allowed – some homes were removed from the project boundaries and some money was shaved off the grant request. It’s the third CASF infrastructure grant that Cal.net has won; the other two projects are in El Dorado County.

As with the others, this latest grant will go towards paying for wireless towers and equipment. The plan, according to the CPUC resolution, is to…

…use a variety of technologies to service broadband to end users, which includes Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) equipment for line- of-sight situations, fixed-LTE (a non-mobile variation of the LTE commonly used in cell phones) for near-line-of-sight situations (minor obstructions), and TV White Space in the UHF and upper-VHF bands for heavily-obstructed non-line-of-sight situations.

The resolution doesn’t go into detail, but it’s likely that not all the homes covered by the project will have the full range of speed options available – different technologies and radio bands have different performance and capacity specs.

Prices are well above those offered by fiber-to-the-home projects. Cal.net plans to charge $70 per month for 6 Mbps down/2 Mbps up service, and $160 per month for 25 Mbps down/4 Mbps up. That compares to $25 per month for symmetrical (i.e. the same down and up) 25 Mbps service for a CASF subsidised FTTH project in rural Marin County that was approved by the CPUC in August.

Sierra fixed wireless project in line for California broadband subsidy

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El Dorado County is in line for another wireless broadband project, largely paid for by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Last year Cal.net, a wireless Internet service provider in the Sierra Nevada, submitted four proposed projects to the California Public Utilities Commission, asking for a total of $8.1 million in CASF grants to pay for 60% of construction costs. Two of the projects were in El Dorado County. The first, which covers underserved areas to the north of U.S. highway 50, was approved in January.

A draft resolution approving the second projects, which covers areas in the southern and eastern reaches of the county, is scheduled for a vote by commissioners later this month. The cost of the project to CASF would be $1.3 million, about $300,000 more than originally requested. As designed, it’s supposed to reach about 1,500 homes, at an average cost of $830 per location.

According to the draft resolution

Cal.net will use a variety of technologies to service broadband to end users, which includes Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) equipment for line- of-sight situations, fixed-LTE (a non-mobile variation of the LTE commonly used in cell phones) for near-line-of-sight situations (minor obstructions), and TV White Space in the UHF and upper-VHF bands for heavily-obstructed non-line-of-sight situations.

That’s a similar tech profile to the project approved in January, which was the first CASF project to include TV white space and, as far as I can tell, was also the first to use LTE technology in unlicensed (or semi-licensed) bands.

CPUC approves first subsidy for Internet via TV white space

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White space below the tree line.

Besides allowing a wireless claim jumper to ace two towns out of fiber to the home service last Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a $1.1 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for wireless Internet service in northern Eldorado County. Cal.net’s deployment is the first CASF project to lean heavily on newly available television white space spectrum.

The plan is to use a combination of three bands: unlicensed 5 GHz, LTE in semi-licensed 3.65 GHz spectrum and coordinated TV white space, with three usage cases, i.e. line of sight, near line of sight and non line of sight, respectively. If they engineer it correctly, white space facilities would be used for backfill; 5GHz and 3.65 GHz support much higher throughputs.

White space will play a bigger role in serving two small, heavily forested communities – Garden Valley and Greenwood – according to CPUC documents. It’s not clear if white space will be the only solution deployed there, or if it’ll just be particularly necessary.

If you draw a big circle around Garden Valley, there’s about 400 homes (using, as I do, egregiously round numbers). A 50% take rate (Cal.net’s near term projection) gets you 200 subscribers. At 30 Mbps per channel and assuming a max package of 10 Mbps down/3 Mbps up (as the fine print says, higher speeds require specific equipment and signal strength, and may not be available in all areas) one white space channel gets you a 100-times oversubscription rate, two channels bring it down to the 50-times range, and so the worst case scenario goes.

But draw a tighter circle and/or assume that 5 GHz or 3.65 GHz will be installed to reach at least some homes, and the case enters the plausible range.

Cal.net’s budget (grant plus private capital) comes out to $1,200 per home in the service area, including middle mile backhaul via licensed spectrum and a fiber tie-in. That should be enough to pay for professional engineering and a robust buildout. Even so, pricing and max speeds – from $70 per month for 6 Mbps down/2 Mbps up, to $160 for 25/4 where available – will perpetuate rural California’s digital divide, rather than end it, as the CASF program is intended to do.

More trouble for Sierra Nevada broadband grant proposals

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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.

Rural telcos challenge Sierra wireless broadband proposals

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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.

Cal.net seeks $8.1 million grant for Sierra wireless projects

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Four wireless broadband projects intended to cover 18,000 homes in six Sierra Nevada counties are in the hunt for $8.1 million from the California Advanced Services Fund. Submitted yesterday by Cal.net, the plan is to use several kinds of unlicensed and semi-licensed spectrum – 5 GHz, an LTE-type technology in the 3.65 GHz band, a new but a not yet approved allocation in the 3.55 GHz range and television white space – to cover 1,440 square miles in Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa and Tuolumne counties.

Primary backhaul will be via its own network, which includes licensed point-to-point wireless segments, back to the Cal.net network operations center in Shingle Springs, although the application also mentions that it’ll use fiber from the Central Valley Independent Network, a middle mile fiber system funded by both CASF and the 2009 federal stimulus program that runs through the Sierra foothills.

On the average, the four proposals are looking for a $450 subsidy per home in the area the projects are supposed to cover. No subscriber estimate was included in the public information released, nor was any indication of how many homes it would actually be able to reach – although Cal.net has considerable experience in the area, it won’t be possible to reach every home, given the terrain and distances involved. Particularly using unlicensed spectrum as the last mile link.

No information was released either, regarding proposed broadband speeds, pricing or service levels, although the plan is to offer VoIP-based phone service as well.

The total cost of the four projects is somewhere between $11.5 million and $13.4 million. That’s assuming that the grants requested are for 60% to 70% of the tab, per standard CASF rules, which provide 60% subsidies for underserved areas – where there’s some broadband availability but at speeds less than 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up –and 70% where homes are completely unserved.

Assuming all currently pending projects are approved – probably not a completely valid assumption – there will be a bit less than $100 million left in the CASF kitty.