A $511,000 broadband upgrade grant for a cable system owned by CalNeva in Fresno County was unanimously approved by the California Public Utilities Commission at its 11 May 2017 meeting. The commission also signed off on environmental clearances and released $17 million in grant and loan subsidies for the Bright Fiber FTTH project in Nevada County. The $29 million proposal by Race Telecommunications for an FTTH system in the Phelan area, in San Bernardino County was bumped to the commission’s 25 May 2017 meeting.
A $16 million fiber to the home grant from the California Advanced Services Fund was approved this morning by the California Public Utilities Commission. It was a 4 to 1 vote with CPUC president Michael Picker voting no. The Bright Fiber Nevada County Connected project still needs to pass environmental reviews. About $11 million in private financing also needs to be secured. Full disclosure: I worked on the Bright Fiber grant application.
There was no stampede for the newest round of broadband infrastructure grants and loans from the California Advanced Services Fund. No project applications were filed yesterday, the first day of the new season. Or at least, there were no notifications sent out – applicants are supposed to send a project summary to a service list maintained by the CPUC. And yes, I checked my spam folder.
Even so, there are still project proposals totalling $26.2 million in the hopper, left over from the last round, which closed nearly 2 years ago, on 1 February 2013. ViaSat has an active application that originally asked for $11.1 million to buy satellite terminals for subscribers across a wide swath of western California.
It’s a fine idea in many respects – some homes are so remote that satellite Internet service is the only technically and economically viable option. But under CASF rules, every home in the massive project area – not just the relative handful opting for satellite service – would be taken off the table for future subsidies for several years. That little problem along with a flood of protests from ISPs that operate under that footprint have stalled ViaSat’s proposal.
The other proposal still under consideration – $15.2 million for a fiber-to-the-home system in Nevada County submitted by Spiral Internet – also ran into stiff opposition from incumbents. Particularly from a fixed wireless company that had received a stimulus grant several years ago. That problem seems to be solved, mainly by waiting it out, and the proposal is back under active consideration.
The current round stays open until the available money – something like $160 million – runs out. The last time, there was a set deadline, which saw more than 30 applications drop on the same day, ready or not. This time, the thinking is that keeping the window open will allow applicants to take the time to fully prepare, and let the CPUC quickly reject deficient applications without prejudice. So far, so good. If, instead of a flood, there’s a steady trickle of quality projects, it can fairly be called a success.
Tellus Venture Associates assisted with the Spiral Internet CASF application, among others, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.
A standing room only crowd turned out in Nevada City on Thursday evening to celebrate the kick-off of a $28 million fiber-to-the-home project. As proposed, it would bring a full gigabit – up and down – to nearly 3,000 homes and hundreds of businesses in Nevada County. Hosted by Spiral Internet, the gala was intended to light a fire under the Bright Fiber build proposed nearly 2 years ago for a big grant and a (relatively) small loan from the California Advanced Services Fund.
Submitted in February, 2013, the application stalled because of opposition from existing Internet service providers, including Comcast, Suddenlink, Verizon and, crucially, a local fixed wireless company – SmarterBroadband – that had received a federal stimulus grant several years ago, but didn’t complete the required work.
Originally proposed for a $16.6 million grant and $500,000 loan, the grant amount has been trimmed back to $15.2 million in response to those challenges. The balance would come from private investors. California Public Utilities Commission staff are still reviewing it, though.
Spiral CEO John Paul was optimistic that the project would soon be in front of commissioners and approved.
Speakers at the event included representatives from Kansas City, where Google is building a gigabit network neighborhood by neighborhood, Anne Neville, the director of the federal department of commerce’s state broadband initiative, and Blair Levin, previously the author of the FCC’s national broadband plan and now with the Brookings Institute.
“The gigabit network is the commons, it’s something that we’ll all share”, Levin said. “We buy broadband as a community”.
Tellus Venture Associates assisted with the Bright Fiber CASF application, among others, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.