Tag Archives: digital 395

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.

Public sector broadband customers are slow to change, even when it means fast broadband

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Schools and other big broadband users have been slow to sign up for service on Digital 395, a 500-plus mile fiber network that reaches from Reno, down the eastern Calfiornia side of the Sierra Nevada, along U.S. Highway 395, to Barstow. The slower than expected take up rate for anchor institutions is causing financial headaches for the system, according to Michael Ort, president of Praxis Associates, the lead company on the Digital 395 project.

“We need to think about the long term sustainability of these systems”, Ort said.

The more than $100 million it took to build it came from federal stimulus program grants and from the California Advanced Services Fund. To get that money, backers had to demonstrate support from government agencies and other major institutions. Organisations up and down the length of the project were quick with letters of support, but enthusiasm for the concept did not automatically become willingness to buy.

Forty percent of those anchor institutions have not signed up for service yet, and those that have tend to buy low speed service that doesn’t take advantage of the gigabit-class bandwidth an open access fiber network like Digital 395 makes possible, Ort told attendees at a broadband conference in Riverside earlier this month, organised by the California Emerging Technology Fund. Hospitals are signing up for high speed connections, he said, but that aside the average institutional customer is buying 36 Mbps service, with many opting for 10 or 15 Mbps.

Meanwhile, one third of Digital 395’s annual operating budget – $1.5 million – is going to pay property taxes. That’s good for local governments and schools, but it makes for a rough financial ride.

Stay rational and deliver on broadband promises if you want more

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Not everyone feels a need for broadband.

There are two things rural communities in California have to do, to ensure broadband development efforts meet both current and future needs: focus the conversation on concrete, rational needs and demonstrate that existing resources are well and enthusiastically used.

That was the message from Eric Brown, CEO of the California Telehealth Network, at last week’sEastern Sierra Connect Regional Broadband Consortium’s conference in Ridgecrest. He was one of many state and local broadband leaders – and users – who talked about the future of eastern California’s economy, now that the Digital 395 fiber route is fully lit and increasingly serving businesses, organisations and consumers from Barstow to Reno.

The argument in Washington against building broadband infrastructure in rural areas is that “nobody is using what’s out there”, Brown said, pointing to promises to use Digital 395 made, and then broken, by both private organisations and public agencies. “I’m sitting down with congressmen who don’t think we need to invest in rural broadband”, he said. “Particularly from the southeastern part of the country”. Their worries are “objectionable content” and concerns that online terrorists will start recruiting kids out of local high schools.

That’s a world that’s far, far away from California (although Google seems to think that’s a good thing). And far, far away from reality. Whether you’re in California or the so called real world, rural communities are sprinting to keep pace with Silicon Valley, not rushing to retreat into the 20th century.

The conversation has to get back to the core challenge facing rural communities, Brown said. “They shouldn’t be taking about net neutrality, they should be talking about how to get you the bandwidth you need in the first place. Net neutrality is for urban folks who have more bandwidth than they know what to do with”.

Eastern California businesses challenged by booming bandwidth demand

by Steve Blum • , , ,

You got a job to do.

“Five of you can take out my Internet and I have 93 rooms”, Dan Spurgeon, general manager of the Marriott Springhill Suites in Ridgecrest said. That’s despite his recent 50 Mbps upgrade, which he will soon need to re-double. He was one of several local leaders speaking at the Eastern Sierra Connect Regional Broadband Consortium conference in Ridgecrest on Thursday.

Rapidly growing demand for more bandwidth – 40% year after year according to Spurgeon – is a major challenge for businesses and government agencies in eastern California. The Digital 395 project is now lit, but last mile and enterprise facilities have to be upgraded to make full use of it.

The China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in Ridgecrest, for example, is still doing teleconferencing via ancient ISDN circuits (as well as having modern, fat pipes). “Ageing fiber optic infrastructure” on the base is “nearing end of life, it was installed in the early 80s, the mid 80s”, said Justin French, an IT executive there. “We need to look at the next five to ten years”.

Fixing it isn’t just a matter of finding the money. It’s also about taking down barriers that block construction. “I don’t need red tape”, said Kishor Joshi, president of Pertexa, a health care IT consulting firm.

It’s a problem that needs to addressed in Sacramento, said Kimberly Maevers, president of the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance, a local economic development organisation. “We have to demand [California Environmental Quality Act] reform so the IBEW and any other special interest group can’t come in and hold us hostage”.

The only option is to build, and use, better infrastructure, said Eric Bruen, who runs the Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union. “If you’re not moving as fast as your consumer, you will be left in the dust”.