With no discussion and plenty of advocates in attendance, the California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a $7.7 million construction subsidy for a fiber to the home project in Occidental and grants for three regional broadband consortia and 12 public housing programs. It also rescinded five previously approved but currently stalled California Advanced Services Fund infrastructure projects, putting $4.5 million back into the kitty. More details here.
UPDATE: The CPUC approved the Occidental project and the consortia and public housing grants, and rescinded subsidies for the five dormant CASF projects in a unanimous, consent agenda vote this morning.
Occidental, a small community in rural Sonoma County, will get gigabit broadband service for $100 a month, if the California Public Utilities Commission approves a $7.7 million construction grant at its meeting later the morning. The fiber-to-the-home project was proposed earlier this year by Race Telecommunications and originally specced at serving 757 homes. That number was reduced to 458 after agricultural land and vacant lots were factored out. That didn’t change the total price tag, so the per household subsidy from the California Advanced Services Fund would be $16,800.
But what the CPUC giveth, it can taketh away. Five previously approved projects are about to have $4.5 million in funding rescinded. More details on those are here. Only one of the recipients objected. In a the dog ate the homework sort of letter, WillitsOnline asked to keep its $149,000 grant for a DSL upgrade in the Mendocino County town of Westport, but hinted it would need more money to get it done. The resolution in front of commissioners today would reject that request but encourage WillitsOnline to reapply for what was looking like a significantly different project.
Three regional consortia are up for grants totalling $737,000 that would allow them to carry on their broadband development work, for two years in Tahoe, three years in the East Bay and five years on the Central Coast.
A dozen public housing communities in San Francisco and the Sacramento area are up for a total of $507,000 in grants to run digital literacy programs. That resolution would also change the rules and allow the programs to give out refurbished computers that are up to five years old – the current limit for CASF subsidies is two years.
I’m the project lead for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, and the East Bay and Tahoe consortia are my clients. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Quite the contrary. Take it for what it’s worth.
No future here.
Fiber to the home service is coming to a string of small Mono County communities generally along U.S. highway 395 (and along the Digital 395 fiber backbone), but one – Lee Vining – will be left out.
The California Public Utilities Commission approved a $6.6 million grant to Race Telecommunications from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to build out FTTH systems in South Chalfant, Benton, Benton Hot Springs, Swall Meadows and Mono City. But commissioners excluded Lee Vining because AT&T and Verizon offer mobile broadband service there.
The mobile service that’s available won’t support the kind of services and applications that wireline systems can – that point was confirmed by CPUC staff. High definition, interactive video streaming is an example, and it’s not just about being able to watch Netflix.
“That type of video is increasingly critical for taking classes and is absolutely critical for medical types of applications”, said commissioner Catherine Sandoval. “Truly, it’s where the future is going”.
Unfortunately, it’s not where the majority of CPUC commissioners are heading. Despite the fact that the project would pass north through Lee Vining anyway in order to reach Mono City, three commissioners – Liane Randolph, Carla Peterman and president Michael Picker – voted to exclude the town from the project. The general rationale was that the $1 million saved could be better spent elsewhere.
It was the second time in as many meetings that the CPUC has pulled particular towns out of CASF-subsidised projects because they deemed slow and expensive wireless service to be good enough, while approving money to upgrade neighboring communities to FTTH. Race will be offering the lucky towns uncapped, symmetrical 25 Mbps service for $25 per month and a gigbit for $100. People in Lee Vining, on the other hand, will have much slower service – 6 Mbps down – from AT&T and Verizon, and will be paying by the byte: to get the 50 gigabytes of data that the median U.S. consumes, Verizon’s mobile customers have to pay $350 per month, and wait a lot longer for it to be delivered.
Resolution approving $6.6 million for the Gigafy Mono project
Alternate resolution – rejected by a 3 to 2 vote – that would have included Lee Vining
CPUC staff presentation comparing the two alternatives
There’s a second bid for grant money to build a fiber to the home system in the San Bernardino County desert communities of Phelan, Piñon Hills, Oak Hills and West Cajon Valley, plus parts of Victorville and Hesperia. Yesterday, Ultimate Internet Access, Inc. (UIA) asked for a $21 million infrastructure subsidy from the California Advanced Services Fund CASF) for the project. It’s now competing directly with Race Telecommunications for the cash.
Last August, Race submitted a $48 million grant proposal, also for an FTTH build in that area. The two companies submitted nearly identical lists of census block groups, although their maps look somewhat different. Race is proposing to pass 10,028 homes at $8,000 total for each; UIA says it’ll hit 10,799 homes for $3,200. In both cases, 60% of that money would come from CASF.
One possible reason for the cost difference could be middle mile infrastructure. UIA says it’ll get its backhaul from Verizon and/or Charter. Race didn’t specify its middle mile plan in its public filing, but it usually wants to build or lease its own fiber lines that connect new projects with areas it already serves via CASF grants. For example Boron and Mojave, which are about 50 and 75 miles away respectively.
UIA is also active in the region. It’s received CASF subsidies for Helendale and Wrightwood, which are even closer.
The area has been redlined by Charter Communications, which has a video franchise there but hasn’t built out a digital system capable of providing broadband service. Verizon’s DSL service doesn’t hit the CPUC’s minimum speed of 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up, where it’s available at all.
There have been previous CASF grant proposals that have overlapped to a degree, but none have been as directly competitive as these two. There’s a scoring system in the CASF program that’s intended to sort these things out, but there hasn’t been an apples-to-apples opportunity to put it to use. Not until yesterday anyway.
“Do the folks in Trona and Searles Valley that initially expressed strong support for this project, are they aware of this change?” asked commissioner Mike Florio as the California Public Utilities Commission considered a greatly trimmed fiber to the home project proposed for several high desert communities.
“No they are not, mostly likely they are not, unless they were attending today’s meeting and received the [revised] version”, replied Rob Wullenjohn, the CPUC staff manager who oversees the California Advanced Services Fund CASF). That revised version was posted on the CPUC’s website only the day before the meeting.
The change for people in Trona and Searles Valley is mighty drastic: they’ve been cut out of project due to a last minute market entry and protest by a wireless service provider.
The discussion then dove into procedural minutia, with the consensus being that because the cutback was the result of a decision by the applicant, Race Telecommunications, the only options were to approve it or not.
That’s not true. Commissioners also had the option of bumping it to a later meeting to give the hundreds of people living in Trona and Searles Valley a chance to express an opinion and learn more details about how the cut back came about.
Commissioner Catherine Sandoval said the door wasn’t permanently shut for them. “If we were to go ahead and approve this particular application…that it would actually would be helpful to any future work. This particular application will connect to Digital 395 and also take advantage of the previous CASF grant that we granted that Race built out in Boron”, she said.
The vote was 4 to 1 in favor of the chopped down version, with president Michael Picker voting no after expressing concerns about subscriber acquisition rates.
But the door is shut for now. Three smaller towns – Randsburg, Johannesburg, and Red Mountain – will get FTTH service, starting at $25 per month for symmetrical 25 Mbps service. Trona and Searles Valley will not.
No gigabit for you.
It’s still called the Five Mining Communities broadband project, but only three will be getting fiber to the home service, assuming the California Public Utilities Commission approves a $2 million California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grant as currently drafted at its meeting tomorrow.
Race Telecommunications will get the money to build out in Randsburg, Johannesburg, and Red Mountain, near the junction of Inyo, San Bernardino and Kern counties. But neighboring Trona and Searles Valley are off the list, because of a last minute challenge from a wireless Internet service provider, SBC Wireless, who just popped up in town…
[CPUC] staff followed up with SBC-Wireless and was told that SBC-Wireless began operations in the area in late October 2015, has eight employees, and as of November 20, 2015 has 142 residential customers signed up for service. Working with Staff, the company subsequently began participation in the State Broadband Mapping data submission program, and submitted several speed tests from the Trona/Searles Valley area. As a result of this new data, Race removed the Trona/Searles Valley area from the Five Mining Communities Project.
SBC’s challenge was filed in mid-November, less than a month after it claims to have begun operations. Race’s application, on the other hand, was filed a year before, in December 2014. It took all that time to review it and in the process a determination was correctly made that there were no broadband competitors that met minimum standards anywhere in the area.
It costs a lot of money to prepare and defend a CASF grant application, partly because the review process takes such a long time. Details of where the project will be built are publicly posted, giving any wireless cowboy a chance to squash it by investing less money, potentially, than the applicant’s out of pocket costs. And do it a year later.
That’s not fair to the applicants or to the people who live there. Residents of the three lucky towns will be able to buy symmetrical 25 Mbps service for $25 a month (and a gigabit for $100). Those in Trona and Searles Valley, though, will have to shell out $90 a month for 7 Mbps down/2 Mbps up service.
There’s no question of fairness to the WISP. If you know that a grant application has been filed and you enter the market anyway, the risk on is you.
CPUC commissioners get the final say this morning. The right thing to do would be to send it back for one more revision and put Trona and Searles Valley back in the game.
If you head west from Santa Rosa on State Route 12, and take the fork at Occidental Road, about halfway to the Pacific Ocean you’ll come to the town of Occidental. Residents there get broadband service from AT&T and Comcast, but if you go a little further west, the lines end. Race Telecommunications wants to build out a fiber to the home system there, and is asking the California Public Utilities Commission for a $9.1 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund to do it.
According to the Gigafy Occidental project proposal, Race plans…
…to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) Last Mile network to serve 100% of the homes in a defined service area that includes the Joy Road Area of Occidental in Sonoma County. This project will service 757 households in a 4.2 square mile area. Fiber based Internet speeds will offer packages including 1Gbps (1000 Mbps) down and 1Gbps (1000 Mbps) up.
As the publicly available summary of the grant application reads, the entire area is unserved, which would mean that 70% of the project cost would be eligible for a CASF subsidy. That implies a total project cost of $13 million, or $17,000 per home, of which $12,000 would be covered by the grant, if approved.
According to the CPUC’s online broadband availability map, there’s no wireline or fixed wireless service in the area. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon’s mobile service doesn’t hit the 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps threshold to consider an area as served, but it could be enough to bump the area to underserved, which would drop the subsidy to 60%. That’s based on estimates derived from general speed tests, and not specific measurements taken in the project area, though.
Fiber follows fiber.
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.
A gig is a lot faster than 20 mules.
One of the fastest and cheapest ways to get gigabit service to your home is to move to Boron, California. Race Telecommunications finished building out fiber-to-the-home infrastructure there last month, and is selling a gig of Internet access for $60 per month, and unlimited voice service for $10 a month.
The community’s response was quick and enthusiastic. So far, about a third of the 900 homes and businesses in town have ordered service, with about 200 already connected and crews working to hook up the rest at the rate of about 30 per week. Until Race started taking orders, residents either had to buy stingier and more expensive satellite Internet service or try to make do with sketchy mobile coverage. No wireline option was available.
The Boron project is the smallest of three successful FTTH grant proposals that Race submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission in 2013. The two others – in four small Mono County communities and in the Tehachapi Pass area – are still in progress. The next town to be lit up with the same deal will likely be Chalfant in Mono County. That’s expected to happen before the end of the year. Demand there seems to be equally heavy, with about 40% of the 300 or so homeowners telling Race they want service.
Counting the Gigafy Backus project, which was approved by the CPUC last week, and an earlier project at the Mojave Air and Space Port, Race has received $23.4 million in subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund. Four more projects, totalling $69.4 million, are still under consideration.
Blue indicates Charter’s state cable franchise areas where it hasn’t upgraded to DOCSIS 3 capability, as it has in the yellow areas.
Race Telecommunications has zeroed in on a big and densely populated area of the San Bernardino County desert that’s been redlined by Charter Communications, and neglected by Verizon. Wireline broadband service in the area generally fails to meet the California Public Utilities Commission’s minimum standard of 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up. The result is a $48.3 million grant request to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for Gigafy Phelan, a proposed fiber to the premise project that would reach 10,000 homes, according to the application filed with the CPUC on Monday.
The project area takes in the communities of Phelan, Pinon Hills, Oak Hills, and Hesperia. It’s in an area of California’s Inland Empire that’s drawn a lot of interest from CASF applicants. The Phelan project sits in between two CASF-funded projects in Wrightwood and Helendale, submitted by Ultimate Internet Access and approved by the CPUC earlier this year. As with Phelan, Charter Communications redlined those areas and refused to build upgraded, broadband capable cable systems, as it has in more affluent communities nearby.
Race is no stranger to the neighborhood, with approved CASF projects to the north at the Mojave Air and Spaceport, the Tehachapi area, Boron and in Mono County.
With a requested construction subsidy of about $4,800 per home, the Gigafy Phelan project falls in the mid-range of CASF requests. The plan is to offer residents service packages that top out at a symmetrical 1 Gbps down and up. The publicly released project summary didn’t include rate information, but Race has offered gigabit service for $60 per month elsewhere.