Tag Archives: digital 395

A decade late and megabucks short, Kern County fiber project gets environmental approval

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Caltrans slow 2

After ten years of review, the California Public Utilities Commission is about to approve environmental clearances for a middle mile fiber project in Kern County, subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Mediacom, a cable company that owns a handful of scattered systems in remote parts of California, applied for a $286,000 CASF grant in 2009, intending to build a 32 mile middle mile fiber route from Inyokern – an unincorporated community along U.S. 395 near Ridgecrest – to its system that serves the Lake Isabella area in eastern Kern County.

The CPUC speedily approved the grant, which represented 40% of the total cost of the project at the time. Back then, CASF typically subsidised less than half of the construction cost of broadband infrastructure projects. These days, that figure could be as high as 100%.

It’s not a complicated build, or one that should raise legitimate environmental objections. The plan was, and still is, to install fiber generally along state route 178, mostly by burying it in the already-developed right of way. Some problematic segments would run on existing pole routes or, in one case, underneath a bridge.

The draft resolution that the CPUC is scheduled to vote on next week doesn’t explain why it took a decade to figure out that the environmental impact of such a project is effectively nil. Anecdotal reports over the past decade have pointed the finger of blame at federal agencies and Caltrans, all of which have a role to play. But the CPUC is the lead agency for environmental approvals of this sort, and ultimately bears responsibility for getting it done.

A lot has changed since 2009. The cost of installing broadband conduit has steadily increased, largely due to demand for new fiber growing faster than the supply of contractors and skilled workers able to install it. Another factor is a state law, passed in 2014, which imposes so-called “prevailing wage” requirements on CASF projects. Instead of paying market rate wages, contractors on CASF-subsidised projects have to pay union scale rates blessed by a state agency. The CPUC has, however, approved grant supplements in the past to cover the difference.

Even so, what was a six-figure construction project in 2009 is easily a seven-figure project today. Assuming Mediacom builds the project, it might reasonably conclude that it would have come out ahead financially if it had paid the entire 2009 tab itself.

Caltech turns eastern California fiber network into earthquake detector

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Caltech readout

Fiber optic networks do more than just ride out major earthquakes without dropping a bit. They can also detect and collect data on the quakes themselves. Two major quakes – magnitude 6.4 and 7.1 – hit eastern California on 4 and 5 July 2019 respectively, in the high desert of Kern and San Bernardino counties, where seismometers aren’t thick on the ground. To understand what happened, and what continues to happen, Caltech scientists needed to quickly get more sensors into the field.

Fortunately, the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada – Mono, Inyo, Kern and San Bernardino counties in California, and Washoe and Douglas counties and Carson City in Nevada – has fast, earthquake ready fiber connectivity.

The Digital 395 open access fiber optic network, which links Reno to Barstow along the eastern Sierra, runs right through the area that was hardest hit. By connecting “surveillance technology initially developed for military and general security applications that can detect ground movement” to a single fiber strand, an underground fiber route – or sections of it, at least – can be used for “pre-shock detection of P and S waves across the fibers”, according to Michael Ort, CEO of Praxis Associates/Inyo Networks, which built and operates Digital 395. In other words, fiber optic networks can be used detect the big incoming shockwaves a few critical seconds before they hit, as well as provide valuable scientific data about the event.

Preliminary discussions about installing distributed acoustic sensing equipment had been held with Caltech, but everything went into high gear when the quakes began hitting Ridgecrest. Zhongwen Zhan, a Caltech scientist, asked about using one of Digital 395’s strands, and got a quick yes from Ort.

He hooked up his instruments on 9 July 2019, four days after the 7.1 quake and while the ground was still shaking with aftershocks. The results were immediate, with multiple (mostly small) quakes detected every minute, beginning as soon as the equipment was turned on.

“The fiber gave them about 5,000 sample points over 10km of fiber. Before they had only a handful of sample points in the area. So you got only “discrete points” of these, not the overall picture”, Ort said.

“This first time ever use of fiber has given us many data points, making our observations more complete and natural”, said Mark Simons, JPL chief scientist and CalTech professor of geophysics. “It’s a true breakthrough that will revolutionise our perspective and help with early warning”.

Digital 395 was built with money from the 2009 federal stimulus program and from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). It was the first and the longest of the open access middle mile fiber routes funded by CASF, before the California legislature bowed to pressure (and money) from incumbent telephone and cable companies and banned those types of projects.

California-funded fiber keeps (most) quake hit communities connected

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Digital 395 19sep2013

I planned to write about Trona and Searle Valley today, but not with earthquakes in mind. Instead, I was going to look at a recent California Public Utilities Commission ruling that, in effect, disavowed a previous and pusillanimous decision to deny broadband infrastructure grants in those two towns. That’s for later. For now, it’s about the eastern California communities that got state and federal broadband grants and, as a result, maintained modern, gigabit-class broadband connectivity even as two major earthquakes – 7.1 and 6.4 magnitude – and a continuing swarm of fore and aftershocks hit.

After chopping out Trona and Searle Valley, the CPUC approved a 2016 California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grant for fiber-to-the-home infrastructure in three other small towns in the Ridgecrest area, Randsburg, Johannesburg and Red Mountain. Race Communications built and now runs those systems, which continued to deliver gigabit service despite this weekend’s shaking, according to chief technical officer Carlos Alcantar.

Race’s last mile service was supported by Digital 395, a 500+ mile middle mile fiber network that runs from Reno, down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, to Barstow, linking communities along U.S. highway 395 to major east-west fiber routes. It was also funded by grants from CASF, and from the 2009 federal stimulus program.

“The network did great, and was a critical lifeline for the hospital”, said James Suver, CEO of the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital and a Digital 395 board member.

According to Michael Ort, CEO of Praxis Associates/Inyo Networks, which built and operates Digital 395, the many public safety agencies, utilities and telecoms companies that rely on it stayed connected throughout the weekend…

We lost commercial power, but went to battery and generator in Ridgecrest. We’ve had other earthquakes, but nothing like this…

We also continued to beef up the reliability of the network as we learned about weaknesses: north-south redundancies, redundant routing up the central valley, multiple service providers feeding in and out of the network…

The fact that there was-real time international news coverage of the event (internet, TV video) is because it travelled on our network. I got a text from a friend in Paris within 10 minutes, asking if we were okay, which is a testament on how fast information travels today.

Reliable communication infrastructure and service is an absolute requirement for effective disaster response and recovery. By all accounts, emergency services in Kern and San Bernardino counties performed flawlessly this weekend. Without these two CASF-subsidised fiber projects, the story might have been different.

Update 10 July 2019: added quote from James Suver.

Broadband redlining in rural California, a tale of two mayors

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Internet access in rural California is fantastic, and it’s awful. Those two messages were delivered to the California Public Utilities Commission last week by, respectively, the mayors of Mammoth Lakes and Oroville.

The reason for the difference? A big, fat open access middle mile fiber route, paid for by state and federal subsidies. The same type of project that the California legislature and governor Brown banned from future funding by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

Mammoth Lakes mayor John Wentworth invited CPUC commissioners to “come over the eastern Sierra and visit the great telecommunications and broadband capacity we have over there”. He called out the Digital 395 project, an open access fiber network that runs from Reno to Barstow, going through Mammoth Lakes and most other communities on the eastern slope of the Sierra. It was built with grants from CASF and the federal government and, according to Wentworth, is providing the raw material for a high tech economy.

He was followed by Oroville mayor Linda Dahlmeier, who told commissioners about her struggle to convince AT&T and Comcast to upgrade their infrastructure to meet minimal performance standards…

One of the first thing that happens anytime it rains in my community is our services go out, because the infrastructure from AT&T…is so inefficient that it can’t supply the needs just on a regular basis. Especially if there’s any moisture in the air…

I’ve worked in the banking industry for many years…this is what banking used to call redlining. When I asked Comcast to do development on the other side, because the infrastructure is so poor on AT&T’s [side] and they will not improve it…for them to come and even cross my Oro Dam Boulevard is $2.5 million. And that’s $2.5 million that our community doesn’t have. Nor do we have access to last or middle mile because AT&T and Comcast have defined that they serve our area adequately, which is not a true statement…

You can actually drive down [highway] 162 and see on one side of the street where Comcast is a provider, which does a significantly better job, and you can see the development. On the other side where you have AT&T…it looks like a slum. It’s that big of a difference. And it’s that side of my community that is where my industrial development would happen.

Oroville, like many other rural California communities, has triple trouble. The telco – AT&T – won’t upgrade its decaying copper plant, preferring instead to milk its existing investment as long as it can and then back fill with less reliable and more expensive wireless service. The cable company – Comcast – only builds where the revenue stream from a given neighborhood meets its revenue requirements.

Finally, there’s no incentive for incumbents to change and no hope of competition.

Unlike Mammoth Lakes and the rest of the eastern Sierra, where publicly subsidised fiber is improving incumbents’ service, supporting competitive providers and driving economic development.

Two more eastern California towns in line for FTTH

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Bridgeport and Walker in northern Mono County will get gigabit-class fiber to the home service, if the California Public Utilities Commission votes to approve a $3.1 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), as recommended by a long delayed draft resolution prepared by staff.

The grant would go to Race Telecommunications, which has been building fiber to the home systems along and near the Digital 395 middle mile fiber route. Both the last mile systems and Digital 395 have benefited from CASF subsidies and, in the case of the Digital 395 project, a federal broadband stimulus grant.

Combined, the two towns have 444 homes which do not have access to broadband service at the CPUC’s minimum standard of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. Originally, another 125 homes in Coleville – four miles to the north of Walker – was included in the proposal, but was removed because Frontier Communications had exercised its right of first refusal under CASF rules, and promised to upgrade the town. As a result, Coleville will be left out of the FTTH project.

People living in Bridgeport and Walker, though, will be able to buy symmetrical gigabit service for $100 a month, as well as tiers at slower speeds, starting at $25 per month for symmetrical 25 Mbps service.

The Gigafy North 395 project was proposed by Race almost two years ago, on 31 December 2014. The CPUC is expected to vote on it at its 1 December 2016 meeting. At that point, it will be nearly 600 days late – CASF rules, as approved by the commission, set a 106 day deadline for staff to process a grant application and either reject it or get it in front of commissioners for a vote. Even if you start the clock counting from the point where the Frontier-served homes in Coleville were pulled out, the resolution is still more than a year overdue. Welcome, but overdue.

Fiber projects grow from Digital 395 middle mile

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Slowly but surely, Race Telecommunications is expanding its fiber to the home footprint in eastern California, using money from the California Advanced Services Fund. The latest addition could be several small towns in Mono County – the Gigafy Mono project – and five small mining communities further south, where the company is asking for $7.6 million and $8.9 million respectively. Draft resolutions approving the money are circulating now, with the California Public Utilities Commission expected to vote on them in December. The draft resolutions point out that the projects are a direct result of the Digital 395 project, a middle mile fiber network runs down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada

South Chalfant will utilize Digital 395 fiber from existing Chalfant to New South Chalfant; Benton will utilize Digital 395 fiber from existing Chalfant to Benton; Swall Meadows will connect to the existing Race node in Tom’s Place;7 and Lee Vining will utilize Digital 395 fiber and connect back to Boron.

The Five Mining Communities Project will build on previous CASF projects by connecting to existing Digital 395 facilities via a dark fiber Indefeasible Right of Use from the Race Boron Central Office to the Ridgecrest Digital 395 Node. Race will also add a drop in the Randsburg/ Johannesburg/ Red Mountain ODC for network ring protection. This will ensure a reliable connection while also leveraging prior CASF investments.

According to Raul Alcaraz, Race’s CEO, the Boron system is exceeding expectations, with a take rate in the 40% range, just a few months after the project was completed.

Digital 299 wants to be California’s next fiber highway

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A 200+ mile long fiber optic project that would link the northern California coast to the Sacramento Valley and cost $73 million to build was turned in to the California Public Utilities Commission yesterday. The intention is to secure a $51 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund to pay for 70% of the cost.

The Digital 299 proposal was submitted by Inyo Networks, a growing last and middle mile fiber optic company which operates the Digital 395 project that links Reno to Barstow and stretches 500 miles down the eastern side of California. The company has two other grant applications in front of the CPUC, one for last mile service to communities along the Digital 395 route and another – the Trans Sierra project – linking the Reno terminus to Sacramento and serving isolated communities in between.

This latest proposal is similar, in that it includes a handful of last mile projects in communities along State Route 299 between Eureka and Redding, and provides opportunities for other service providers to upgrade broadband broadband speeds and reliability for even more homes. Yesterday’s application talks about reaching 1,000 homes but that’s just for the four last mile service areas in Lewiston, Douglas City, Hayfork and Burnt Ranch. The under and unserved region along the Digital 299 route encompasses something like 10,000 eligible homes, at least according to a quick estimate I ran yesterday.

The project includes plans to reach more than a hundred government sites, including schools and public safety facilities, as well as hospitals and clinics.

Click here to download the Digital 299 project summary

I’m not directly involved with the Digital 299 project, but I am working on the Trans Sierra proposal. I’m not a disinterested commentator, take it for what it’s worth.

Two projects ask for $99 million California broadband subsidy

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Two big requests were filed with the California Public Utilities Commission today. Race Telecommunications is asking for $48 million to build a fiber-to-the-home system in San Bernardino County, and Inyo Networks wants $51 million to link Eureka to Redding with fiber along State Route 299.

I’ll have more on Digital 299 in tomorrow’s blog post, and on Gigafy Phelan on Wednesday. If you’re keeping track, there’s now $173 million in proposals chasing about $156 million in the California Advanced services fund kitty. More on that later this week, too.

Trans Sierra project proposes to bridge a mountain broadband gap

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Inyo Networks – one of the companies behind the Digital 395 network that serves the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada – is asking the California Public Utilities Commission for a $3.7 million subsidy to build access nodes along an existing fiber route that runs between Reno and Sacramento, more or less down the I-80 corridor, and includes a spur that connects the system to the Tahoe basin. The project was developed with considerable help from the Tahoe area’s broadband consortium. It’s the second application the company has submitted recently for a grant from California Advanced Services Fund – the first was for fiber-to-the-home service in Inyo County.

The Trans-Sierra proposal is primarily a middle mile project, but it also includes last mile, fiber-to-the-home service in two small communities – Nyack and Emigrant Gap – along the way. It would connect the Reno end of the Digital 395 system to major Internet exchange points in Sacramento, and make it possible to cross-connect to the Central Valley Independent Network, another CASF-subsidised (and federal stimulus program-subsidised) middle mile project that runs north and south through the foothills on the western side of the Sierra.

According to the project summary…

The proposed technology solution selected for the interoffice transport network is a series of four optical packet transport nodes located along the route at Sacramento, Auburn, Truckee and Reno. Capable of supporting multiple 100 Gb. wavelengths, the transport nodes will be equipped with reconfigurable optical add drop multiplexers (ROADM) that will provide access for OTN level interconnection switching to other middle mile networks and local distribution facilities. In addition, at the Truckee and Auburn nodes, Ethernet interfaces in 1 and 10 Gb capacity increments will support five, fiber fed, pico node cabinets that are proposed for Applegate, Weimar, Nyack, Colfax, and Alta. Those pico node cabinets will act as interconnection points for local service provider last mile distribution facilities.

Total cost is pegged at $6.1 million; the ask is for a 60% subsidy.

Tellus Venture Associates is assisting Inyo Networks with this project, on behalf of the CPUC-funded Tahoe Basin broadband consortium. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Digital 395 proposes Inyo County FTTH expansion

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Four more remote towns in the eastern California desert are in line for gigabit-class fiber-to-the-home service, thanks to the Digital 395 middle mile network that stretches more than 500 miles down the east side of the Sierra Nevada, from Reno to Barstow.

Inyo Networks – one of the companies behind the Digital 395 project – is asking the California Public Utilities Commission for $4.4 million to extend its middle fiber another 20 miles, reaching from Olancha to Keeler and Darwin, and to build FTTH systems in those three communities, plus the nearby town of Cartago. It’s part of an effort by Inyo County to bring fiber-based broadband service to residents and businesses.

At first glance it looks expensive: there are a total of 265 homes in the four communities, and not all of those are occupied. Darwin actually has more houses than people – census data shows 46 housing units versus a population of 43. On the average, it’ll cost the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) $17,000 per home to subsidise construction. That’s a mere pittance, though, compared to the $74,000 each the CPUC approved for five homes of dubious occupancy in the Rush Creek area of Fresno County last year.

According to the project summary circulated by Inyo Networks, all the homes in the project area are unserved, which means there’s no broadband service at all. Assuming the CPUC validates that claim, that gives the project top priority for CASF money at a nominal subsidy rate of 70%, as opposed to the 60% most projects – which lean heavily towards underserved areas – get.

Tellus Venture Associates is working with Inyo Networks, via CPUC-funded regional broadband consortia, on broadband grant proposals in the current CASF round, although not the South Inyo County project. But however you slice it, I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.