Tag Archives: salinas valley

Salinas Valley preps for IoT development wave

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Middle mile infrastructure is improving in the Salinas valley, with a quantum shift due early next year. That’s expected to help improve poor last mile broadband access, at least when compared to what the average California can expect to get. In a nutshell, that was the message I delivered to the Salinas AgTech meet up last week. You can download the presentation here.

The evening’s program was about broadband resources that could be available to support the development and deployment of Internet of things (IoT) applications, services and products in the region. The Salinas Valley is one of the world’s highest producing agricultural areas, and is just an hour’s drive south of Silicon Valley. Well, okay, it’s an hour when the traffic cooperates, which is not always a good bet. But even so, it’s close enough to make it the logical go-to development bed for agriculture-focused technology.

IoT will play a big role in the future of agriculture in California. All the talk about broadband gaps notwithstanding, water is the one absolutely critical – and desperately scarce – resource here. IoT can help manage it intelligently, both directly via increasingly granular and situationally aware irrigation control, and indirectly by reducing wasted or ill-timed production. And that’s just one aspect of IoT’s agricultural potential.

By the end of March, an open access fiber route – built by Sunesys with a grant from the California Public Utilities Commission – will connect the lower half of the valley to dark fiber that stretches back to heart of Silicon Valley. Besides improving retail broadband services for consumers and small businesses, it will also support the growth of high capacity, industrial class connections which can serve major agribusiness operations as well as the kind of low power, low bit rate wireless networks that will make widespread deployment of IoT technology feasible in the fields.

CPUC approves broadband priorities developed by Central Coast Broadband Consortium

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Twelve central coast communities have been designated as priority areas for broadband infrastructure development by the California Public Utilities Commission. In a unanimous vote on Thursday, 26 June 2014, commissioners endorsed the list presented in March by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, following a month-long workshop on Civinomics.com.

The Pleasure Point/Twin Lakes neighborhood down coast from the City of Santa Cruz, the Brookdale area in the mountains and the town of Soquel made the list, along with Aromas, two rural areas outside of Hollister and six Salinas Valley communities: Castroville, Chualar, Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield and King City.

The Civinomics workshop focused on developing a quantitative ranking system. In the end, the primary criteria used were social and economic impact, project feasibility and, crucially, availability of broadband service. The more homes that don’t have access to service that meets the CPUC’s minimum standard of 6 Mbps download/1.5 Mbps upload speed, the greater the likelihood that grants and loans to build modern infrastructure will be available from the California Advanced Services Fund.

And that’s the other half of what commissioners approved on Thursday. A new round of CASF project proposals will begin in December. Existing broadband providers – Comcast, Charter and AT&T, in particular – were put on notice. Either they make a commitment to the commission that they’ll upgrade the substandard service in those communities or face subsidised competition from ISPs who will.

Being on the list doesn’t guarantee funding (nor does not being on the list preclude it). But the CPUC has already invested $11 million in building a fiber optic backbone from Santa Cruz to Soledad, and would like nothing better than to see it used to deliver gigabit-class service to homes and businesses here.

Without competitive pressure, fiber can be as slow as copper

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A new home development on the back side of the former Ft. Ord in Monterey County is getting fiber to the home. But don’t confuse that with fiber-to-the-home service, which so far doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

The East Garrison development has been in the making for several years. It was ready to move forward just as the Californian housing crash came in 2008, which put it and several other nearby developments into a deep freeze. But the new home market is coming back, and fiber is tagging along for the ride.

Every lot is plumbed with fiber connections, and the homes themselves are pre-wired with Cat 5 cabling, or so the people in the sales office say. Not all the model homes have ethernet – RJ45 – jacks installed. Some just have coax connectors and standard RJ11 phone jacks. There’s a telecoms panel built into the master bedroom closet (a no-no, by the way, according to many service techs – bedroom closets have a way of getting filled to overflowing, making access difficult; better to put it somewhere less personal).

Unfortunately, the fiber might as well be copper, for all the difference it makes to the service Comcast and AT&T are offering. It’s good service – top of the line standard Uverse, for example – but nothing better or cheaper than the top end service packages available in surrounding communities, where the legacy copper plant will support it.

There are no plans – at least not public ones – to open up access to competitive providers, and little likelihood there will be, given that the incumbents appear to own it all. Perched up on a bluff, homeowners will be able to see a new middle mile fiber line planned for the Salinas Valley from their front yards (OK, with the help of strong binoculars…). At this point, that’s all they’ll be able to do with it.

CPUC connects Salinas Valley to Silicon Valley with fast, cheap fiber

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A 91-mile fiber optic middle network for the Salinas Valley, stretching from Santa Cruz in the north, to Watsonville, Moss Landing, Castroville, Salinas, Gonzales and Soledad in the south, is on the way. On a unanimous vote this morning, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a $10.6 million grant to Sunesys, LLC from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

“The key point for me was that typically that these projects only make a price commitment for two years”, said Commissioner Michel Florio. “In this case the provider has made a commitment for at least five years, maybe as long as fourteen years”.

Pointing out that there are “still more jobs in agriculture” in the Salinas Valley than in an other sector, Commissioner Catherine Sandoval highlighted the acute need for better broadband access in the area, as expressed at public meetings the CPUC held in Salinas last year. “This could be a game changer”, she said. “This is a middle mile project, a back bone that is critical”.

The project will bring low cost wholesale fiber access to Salinas Valley Internet service providers and major commercial and institutional customers all along its route, at a maximum cost of $1,550 per month for any contracts, of any length signed in the first five years. By comparison, unsubsidised dark fiber can cost up to ten times as much. The network will interconnect with major north-south fiber lines in Salinas and Soledad, and terminate in Santa Cruz where Sunesys earlier built a dark fiber connection to Santa Clara, which provides access to several Tier 1 exchanges in Silicon Valley.

Since the Santa Clara connection was built 4 years ago, the price of wholesale Internet bandwidth in Santa Cruz has dropped by a factor of one hundred, to less than a dollar a megabit per month. Cruzio, a local ISP, leveraged this access to light up last mile fiber optic connections for downtown Santa Cruz businesses and improve speed and reliability for thousands of consumers. This new line is expected to do the same for Salinas Valley communities.

On the retail side, the commission also approved CASF funding for two last mile projects in the Paradise Road and Monterey Dunes areas of northern Monterey County, proposed by Surfnet Communications, a local ISP (and a Ponderosa Telephone project in Fresno County), albeit without the haircut proposed by Florio.. These two systems are the first of what are expected to be many consumer and small business-oriented projects that connect directly to the Sunesys middle mile network.

Gonzales councilman Robert Bonincontri and city manager Rene Mendez told commissioners of the tremendous need for connectivity in the Salinas Valley, where unemployment rates are high and household income levels are low, even when work is available. The social and economic impact of the project, coupled with its financial viability – demonstrated by the Surfnet proposals, as noted in the approved resolution – was the reason commissioners opted to fund 80% of its construction cost. Normally, CASF grants are limited to between 60% and 70% of the tab.

The next step is to finalise construction plans and route details, with completion expected within two years.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted with several CASF proposals in the current round, including the Sunesys and Surfnet projects, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Trimmed Salinas Valley broadband project heads back to CPUC

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Building jobs and a better economy.

A 91-mile fiber optic middle mile network reaching from Santa Cruz deep into the Salinas Valley is back on track, after discussions between the California Public Utilities Commission and Sunesys, LLC – the company applying for the project – led to a $388,000 cut in proposed grant funding.

A revised draft resolution, offered as an alternative by CPUC president Michael Peevey, was posted this afternoon and is scheduled to be considered by commissioners on Thursday. If approved, it would provide a subsidy of $10,640,000 from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which represents 80% of the total project cost of $13.3 million. That’s more than the established limit of 60% to 70% funding, so commissioners would have to agree to an exception to the general rule, based on the significant social and economic impact the project would have in the Salinas Valley.

This latest draft also extends the time frame for guaranteed pricing on the system. Sunesys is a wholesale dark fiber company, which sells to retail Internet service providers as well as large institutional customers. In exchange for the higher subsidy, Sunesys said it would lease a pair of fiber strands along the entire length of the system to all comers for $1,550 per month and keep that price on the table for at least five years, three years more than the CPUC usually requires for CASF projects. According to the draft…

Sunesys has informed [CPUC] staff that it will honor its pricing commitment above for any contract, of any length, if it is signed during the initial five years. For example if in year four, a customer signs a 10 year contract; Sunesys will honor the above pricing through year 14.

Two Monterey County last mile projects – proposed by Surfnet Communications and reliant on the Sunesys middle mile fiber – are also on Thursday’s agenda, along with a proposal for a combo middle and last mile project in the Cressman area of Fresno County.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted with several CASF proposals in the current round, including the Sunesys and Surfnet projects, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Gonzales mayor makes the case for Salinas Valley broadband

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Maria Orosco addresses the CPUC yesterday.

Gonzales mayor Maria Orosco and city manager Rene Mendez spoke on behalf of their community, the Salinas Valley and the entire central coast region yesterday, as they urged the California Public Utilities Commission to approve an $11 million grant to build a fiber optic broadband backbone system.

Mayor Orosco spoke to the Salinas Valley’s need for twenty-first century broadband infrastructure and the benefits it would bring…

Good morning, my name is Maria Orosco, mayor of the City of Gonzales. I’m also here to ask for your support for the broadband project. Broadband is as vital to our community as water is to our agricultural economy in the Salinas Valley.

This project will bring jobs and a better life to hundreds and thousands of our residents.

Students now cannot do their homework, parents do not have access to services when they have to access the Internet for these services. It makes it challenging and difficult. Without broadband in our communities it will certainly make it more challenging for many of our residents. Businesses in Gonzales are also faced with the challenge of not being able to have certain services that they need, without broadband. So these are some of the things that are a necessity for us in our communities, and we encourage you to approve the funding that is being requested today. Thank you.

Commissioners were generally supportive of the grant, and acknowledged both the needs of the Salinas Valley and the benefits the project would bring. But they delayed a vote on the project until 10 April 2014, in order to take a second look at the numbers.

Salinas Valley fiber optic project gets CPUC support, but final vote postponed

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“I think this is a great project and I want to see it happen”, said commissioner Michel Florio, as the California Public Utilities Commission discussed an $11 million proposal to build a fiber optic backbone down the Salinas Valley. “I drive through that areas regularly. I know the geography, it’s the 101 corridor. It is in many respects a low income area”.

But he wasn’t completely sold on the numbers, questioning the length of time it would take for the applicant, Sunesys LLC, to see a return on its investment in the project, if 83% of the construction cost was subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). By one reckoning it would take 5 years for Sunesys to start showing a profit, which, to Florio, indicated that the subsidy level might be too high. Other estimates went as long as 12 years, depending on the assumptions made.

Earlier in the meeting, Gonazales mayor Maria Orozco and city manager Rene Mendez spoke passionately about the benefits the project will bring to the Salinas Valley – I’ll have more on those comments tomorrow. CPUC staff also walked commissioners through a presentation outlining the project and the logic behind the higher level of funding that commission president Michael Peevey proposed. Normally, CASF subsidies are limited to 60% to 70% of infrastructure costs.

He agreed with Florio’s request to postpone a vote for two weeks to the 10th of April, in order to see if money might be saved. “I’m not interested in any wholesale hatchet job on the costs here, I think we can use a scalpel”, Peevey said.

Florio reiterated his overall support for the project, and seemed confident ultimate agreement on the details was possible. “I hope everyone can sharpen their pencils and shave this back a little bit”, he said, and come up with a plan that’s “not quite as rich but still gets the job done”.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted with several CASF proposals in the current round, including the Sunesys project, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

CPUC gets enthusiastic support for Salinas Valley broadband project

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Once upon a time, Silicon Valley looked pretty much the same.

Community leaders from California’s central coast have weighed in on a grant application in front of the California Public Utilities Commission that would pay for a large portion of a 91-mile fiber optic backbone for the region. The project, submitted by Sunesys, LLC would provide disadvantaged communities in the Salinas Valley with the kind of broadband infrastructure Silicon Valley takes for granted. Not surprisingly, there is tremendous local support for CPUC president Michael Peevey’s proposal to raise the allowable percentage of the construction costs that can be subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium formally submitted comments on the proposal this afternoon, and included more than twenty letters of support from government and business leaders in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties…

Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas – who represents the large, broadband-deprived communities in the southern Salinas Valley that are at the top of the CCBC priority list – has worked with the Sunesys team to help create a proposal that addresses this unfair and unsustainable digital divide. Supervisor Louis Calcagno, who represents the priority communities to the north, has likewise endorsed the project, as have leaders from the incorporated cities of Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield and King, and the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. These community leaders and organisations are on the front line of the battle to create jobs and improve health and public safety for all residents within the project area, a battle that modern broadband infrastructure can help win.

The commission is scheduled to vote on funding the project on 27 March 2014.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted with several CASF proposals in the current round, including the Sunesys project, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. I also wrote the CCBC’s comments. Take it for what it’s worth.

Salinas Valley towns top regional broadband priority list

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The latest rev of a regional broadband priority analysis for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium shows that Salinas Valley communities would see the greatest benefit from broadband infrastructure development, and be more likely to support viable projects.

These preliminary results add weight to the argument for building a fiber optic line through these towns and connecting them to Santa Cruz.

The top three communities by county and regionally are…

Monterey County: 1. Greenfield, 2. King City, 3. Gonzales.

San Benito County: 1. Aromas & surrounding area, 2. Airport/Northeast area, 3. Cienega Road area.

Santa Cruz County: 1. Pleasure Point and Twin Lakes (adjacent communities were combined), 2. Soquel, 3. Brookdale.

Regional wildcards – highest ranking communities not in a county’s top 3: 1. Soledad, 2. Castroville, 3. Chualar.

The six Salinas Valley towns that top the Monterey County and regional rankings are home to 71,000 people, 60,000 of whom live in areas that are CASF-eligible, or at least arguably so. That’s a big percentage of the total population, which adds to the economic and social impact of projects. They are packed tightly together – there are 7,600 people per square mile in Greenfield, for example. That’s a plus for broadband planning, at least in the narrow sense that the shorter the distance between homes, the less it generally costs to build infrastructure.

But it also points to poverty. Median income levels are low – ranging from $44,000 per household in Soledad to $66,000 in Chualar (and surrounding area, which brings the average up). Public service agencies organisations are potential customers, though with 70 potential locations.

The assessment is not finished yet. There’s an ongoing workshop on Civinomics.com where anyone – local or not – can talk about ideas for measuring the impact of broadband development and crunching the numbers. Maps and spreadsheets with all the data and formulae are there to be downloaded. Come and join us.