Tag Archives: central coast

Broadband projects queued up for Monterey startups

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Independent projects are driving broadband infrastructure upgrades on California’s central coast. Maybe not as universally or as quickly as local entrepreneurs would like, but it’s happening. That was my message on Tuesday evening to the the Startup Monterey Bay Tech Meetup in Seaside.

I was asked to give an update on broadband development in the region. Those efforts center on the Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC), an ad hoc group of local companies, agencies and other organisations in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties that essentially have one thing in common: an interest in getting better, cheaper and more reliable broadband service in the region. Some of the work it does – primarily analytical and policy work – is funded by a broadband consortia grant from the California Public Utilities Commission.

Most of the region has substandard broadband service, earning a “D” grade or worse on a scale developed for the East Bay Broadband Consortium. More affluent and/or urbanised areas rate average, “C” grades, but in poorer and/or rural areas, consumers and businesses alike often struggle to get service that meets the CPUC’s minimum standard for Internet access: 6 Mbps up and 1.5 Mbps down.

The good news is that change is coming. A 91-mile open access fiber route between Santa Cruz and Soledad is nearing completion. Built and operated by Sunesys, funded by the CPUC and spearheaded by U.C. Santa Cruz, that line will provide low cost, high capacity backhaul to broadband projects along the entire route: municipal systems in Santa Cruz, Watsonville and Salinas, an FTTH system in north Monterey County and, it seems likely, Charter Communications’ CPUC-mandated digital upgrade of redlined, analog-only communities in the Salinas Valley.

Broadband by itself will not produce new ventures or jobs. It’s up to the region’s entrepreneurs, like those who were at Tuesday’s Monterey Bay tech meetup, to build companies on top of that basic infrastructure. But at least there’s now a fighting chance that it’ll be there for them when they need it.

Cable and telco mix on California’s central coast offers broadband highs and lows

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The low water mark for broadband on California’s central coast is the Monterey-San Luis Obispo county line. As you move north or south from there along the route of the historic El Camino Real, broadband infrastructure gradually gets better, before hitting high water marks in Silicon Valley and Ventura County.

That’s the top line finding from a study I recently completed for the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast. Northern SLO County has an uneven mix of legacy Verizon – now, Frontier – and AT&T systems, some lacking even 1990s grade DSL service, plus some below average Charter cable systems along a narrow corridor either side of U.S. 101. Charter’s claimed download speed – 100 Mbps – is typical for cable systems in California, but its 5 Mbps upload speed misses the mark.

As you come south into the City of San Luis Obispo, AT&T predominates and service improves somewhat, with more ADSL2-based Uverse systems present.

Moving into Santa Barbara County, it’s all ex-Verizon on the telco side. Except for a few pockets of fiber-to-the-home FiOS service in new developments, the picture is pretty bleak. Not a single former Verizon copper system in California – central coast or elsewhere – meets the CPUC’s minimum standard of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. Some manage to meet or exceed the download benchmark, but the fastest upload speed that Verizon supported on copper was 1 Mbps. The northern half of the county is Comcast territory, the southern portion, including the City of Santa Barbara, is served by Cox. Both deliver average upload and download speeds for Californian cable systems.

Ventura County has an interesting mix of service providers and technology. Aside from a small pocket of Cox service in the north, the county is, or rather was, served by both Time Warner, which more or less meets the California average, and Charter. Charter owns it all now, having completed its purchase of Time Warner in May. Telephone systems are split three ways – AT&T copper, ex-Verizon copper and FiOS. As you get closer to Los Angeles County, the mix is excellent – predominantly Time Warner cable and FiOS. Where it’s only Charter and ex-Verizon copper, it’s not so good. Areas with AT&T infrastructure – more ADSL2 and VDSL systems are present – fall in between.

Overall, SLO and Santa Barbara counties get a “D-” on the A to F grading scale we originally developed for the East Bay Broadband Consortium. Cities and unincorporated communities in those two counties more or less hover around that mark. Ventura County, on the other hand, earned a strong “C” overall, with several cities and unincorporated communities ranking in the “A” and “B” range.

Full report card details are in the report, along with an assessment of wireline and wireless broadband infrastructure in the three counties. The report also contains the first run of a new analytical tool – Star Ratings – that zooms in on commercial and industrial broadband infrastructure. More on that later.

Broadband Analysis and Planning, Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast, Final Report, 11 April 2016
Broadband Analysis and Planning Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast Update, 30 June 2016
Star Rating maps – San Luis Obispo County
Star Rating maps – Santa Barbara County
Star Rating maps – Ventura County

Saving the environment doesn’t have to mean choking off local infrastructure and economic growth

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You can protect the coast without littering it with red tape.

To keep Santa Cruz’s tech economy growing, basic infrastructure has to get better. Broadband is a big part of it, but so is housing, transportation and office space. A day long conference in Seaside in January – the kick-off event for the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership – brought business and government leaders together from Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties to talk about creating the right conditions for an entrepreneurial culture to grow.

Nearly everyone pointed to the limits imposed by ageing or non-existent infrastructure. It’s a primary barrier – you can’t run a high tech company without high capacity broadband access, for example – but it’s also a necessary first step to overcoming other challenges as well. You need educated and motivated people, and expensive homes and jammed roads make the central coast region unattractive to the talent local companies need most.

Infrastructure improvements, though, are delayed and, sometimes, stopped altogether by challenges made under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), often by people with little or no direct involvement in a project.

“CEQA is being abused by every NIMBY and special interest group across the board,” said Chris Thornberg from Beacon Economics, the conference keynote speaker. Fixing it means doing three things, he said.

“I would not allow anyone who’s not involved to use it,” Thornberg said. “Unions should not be allowed to use CEQA” as a tool in negotiations. Second, “overall, we need to make the entire system much clearer and more transparent.”

Finally, it needs to be drawn back a bit in terms of its power to constrain, Thornberg said. “I think CEQA is a little too weighted in terms of protecting the environment, at the cost of economic growth.”

Safeguarding California’s natural wonders and quality of life is important, but it doesn’t take an endless, byzantine and expensive process to do it.

Central coast leaders dig into broadband

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There’s one big similarity between water and broadband access on California’s central coast: there’s a lot of it close at hand but high cost and low quality make it nearly unusable. That’s how I set up a discussion about broadband at the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) conference in Seaside a couple weeks ago.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium has mapped hundreds of miles of fiber optic lines throughout the region. But most of it, like water in the Pacific Ocean, is too expensive for everyday use. It’s controlled by AT&T, Comcast and, to a lesser extent, Charter Communications, which are in the business of selling managed services – Internet access metered by the bit – and not the fundamental building blocks of broadband, like dark fiber strands.

The panelists – Santa Cruz County supervisor Zach Friend, Cruzio CEO Peggy Dolgenos, Redshift CEO Tony Cricelli and UCSC prof and partnership director Brad Smith – offered good hope for solving the problem.

There’s a project under way to connect Santa Cruz to Soledad with open access fiber, which Smith played a big role in bringing about. Friend is pushing broadband development reforms for the county. Both Dolgenos and Cricelli are building locally owned broadband infrastructure, in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties respectively, that’ll benefit from the new fiber backbone. And from the policies advocated by Friend – county and city governments across the region are looking at adopting their own versions.

Matching the wealth of broadband resources that Silicon Valley takes for granted is a difficult job. But it’s just difficult. Local broadband companies and advocates are doing it, and their enthusiastic reception by regional business and government leaders at the MBEP conference shows they’ll have plenty of help along the way.

Santa Cruz tech companies need housing to draw talent to attract investment

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Talent and attitude are the key to building a high tech economy in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. That’s the message from executives at four of Santa Cruz’s hottest start up companies, speaking at the kick off conference for the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) on 29 January 2015.

“There’s not a thriving scene of professionals in Santa Cruz yet,” said Carolyn Hughes, VP of talent and culture at Looker. Her company maintains a shared work space in San Francisco, allows employees to work remotely two days a week, and pays for rooms in a local hotel so commuters can work in Santa Cruz the other three. One of the barriers to convincing people to make the move is finding jobs for spouses and partners.

“We have senior folks and the entry level talent, but we’re trying to fill that gap in the middle,” said Keri Waters, COO at Vivo Technology.

Start ups need access to angel funding and venture capital, which is easy to find over the hill. But Silicon Valley investors don’t naturally look to the central coast to find opportunities.

“They don’t see as driven a group of workers as on the other side of the hill,” said Brian McDonald sales VP at PredPol. The area “doesn’t resonate as well with investors.”

Looker has raised a lot of a capital, Hughes said, but “our challenge has been to demonstrate that we can adequately deploy that capital” in Santa Cruz.

“Can Monterey County have it’s own unique culture but still drive growth?” asked Jeremy Almond, CEO of Scotts Valley-based PayStand. “Santa Cruz and Monterey are less about pure work/life balance. It’s a little bit like having your cake and eating it too.”

Infrastructure, particularly the lack of affordable housing, is the biggest barrier to attracting and keeping the people the region needs to fill talent gaps, according to the panelists.

“That’s our highest pain point right now,” Hughes said.

Other infrastructure problems include lack of parking, clogged roads, scarce office space and limited broadband availability.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the problems Santa Cruz start ups are experiencing are problems that come with success. Much of the discussion that followed was about how to repeat Santa Cruz’s success elsewhere in the region, where the supply of resources and infrastructure still exceeds demand.

The goal for the more than 200 regional business and government leaders who took part in the conference, and MBEP’s reason for existing, is to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem. That “starts with research and intellectual property, and then applies talent and capital,” according to Bud Colligan, CEO of South Swell Ventures and MBEP’s co-chair. It’s not about changing the essential nature of the region, but adapting it to the realities – the opportunities – of California’s high tech economy.

“We can either be crushed by the wave or ride the wave,” Colligan said. “I prefer to ride the wave, having been crushed by waves many times.”

2015 a broadband breakout year for California’s central coast

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Santa Cruz Tech Beat, for which I sometimes write, published its picks for top stories of 2014. It’s a good list and takes a holistic view of the local tech scene and economy. Looking ahead, I think the ground work that was done this year will drive next year’s success. So, my predictions for the top local broadband stories of 2015 are…

3 – Sunesys fiber line breaks ground
The $10.6 million grant from the California Public Utilities Commission was justified by the benefit delivered to the Salinas Valley — which is substantial, real and sufficient grounds for spending the money. But the most immediate benefit – maybe as soon as 2015 – is likely to be felt in Santa Cruz County, along the Soquel Drive corridor. Surfnet has approval for two Monterey County projects. Cruzio has publicly discussed its intention to use the Sunesys fiber to bring fast Internet to businesses and institutions along the way. The fiber will help light up Watsonville’s muni fiber too – see below. Huge credit goes to Brad Smith and Jim Warner at U.C. Santa Cruz. They had a lot of help from the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, but bottom line, they’re the guys that got it done.

2 – Santa Cruz County broadband policy initiative becomes reality.
Locally, 2014 has been a year more of delay than progress for the effort to rewrite Santa Cruz County’s broadband infrastructure development policies. But that’s often the way new public policy initiatives go – the first to go down a road tread carefull. The good news is there’s an increasingly long line of other agencies, here on the central coast, in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in California, that are falling in behind, happy to let Santa Cruz County walk point but ready to jump in when the time is right.

Add in the fact that several projects are in the pipeline for 2015 and should also get a boost from the new rules, and the impact will be stunning.

1 – The local tech economy booms.
The emphasis by local governments on cutting red tape for companies and broadband projects alike, combined with fiber backbone projects in Watsonville and Hollister, the existing Suneys line between Santa Cruz and Santa Clara, and the extension to Soledad mentioned above, will stoke the already hot technology scene. Looker’s expansion in downtown Santa Cruz, the mysterious Magic Leap virtual reality project there as well and the beginnings of a tech youth movement in Watsonville are just three examples.

Tech development goes where broadband flows, and broadband is flooding into the central coast. That’ll drive the news in 2015.

Then there’s the unpredictable: the best things tomorrow almost certainly will be things we have no way of knowing about today.

Happy New Year!

Sustainable economic growth on California’s central coast demands cooperation

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Yearning creativity seeks willing opportunity.

The economic drivers in California’s central coast region are agriculture and tourism, which account for just about half of private sector jobs in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

But the region also has a well educated workforce that commutes to Silicon Valley and beyond – 24% of Santa Cruz residents, according to Bud Colligan, CEO of South Swell Ventures, who spoke at a regional economic development forum in Seaside. He talked about building a regional high tech economy by creating opportunities for people to work where they live…

The usual narrative about tech on the Central Coast is about companies that have left or missed opportunities (Seagate, Digital Research, Borland, SCO, etc.) But [Cruzio, Redshift, Plantronics, Looker, Universal Audio] have been built from local technical and business talent, and in some cases are veterans of companies that left (the people stayed!). And there are many new start-ups that hope to join them.

Colligan’s prescription is to use the region’s unique assets – marine science, genomics and organics research, proximity to Silicon Valley for example – to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem centered on small companies. He’s adding necessary financial fuel: starting Central Coast Angels, a fund to connect early stage investors with innovative local start-ups, and expanding Opportunity Fund, a micro-lending institution, in the region.

There’s no lack of sparks. Santa Cruz has a growing cleantech sector, built around a coastal lifestyle and the human capital that thrives on it. Watsonville and Salinas, and the valley south of it, are home to agricultural technology companies – scrappy start-ups and quiet but long established enterprises alike – that already serve global markets.

Colligan wants to entice regional political and private sector leaders into cooperative efforts, investing in intellectual property and labor force training with regional goals in mind. The challenge is to overcome habitual hyper-local thinking. The reward is a sustainable economy that complements the region’s greatest assets – its “quality of life, natural beauty, clean environment” – and allows people who live here to thrive here.