California beats the odds in FCC rural broadband experiments

10 December 2014 by Steve Blum
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Sometimes things turn out better than you might expect.

California came out pretty well in the FCC’s provisional rural broadband experiment decisions. Of the 40 bidders that were accepted, 3 proposed a total of 9 projects in California. That’s 11% of the total number of accepted projects. In dollar terms, projects in our state did even better, claiming $16 million of the $99.5 million, 16% of the money tentatively awarded by the FCC.

There wasn’t much information given about the projects or the bidders by the FCC, just names, number of bids selected, total amount of the grant requested and total number of census blocks covered.

Cricelli, Inc. is connected to Red Shift Internet Services in Monterey, which is an ISP that has been expanding its fixed wireless footprint in Monterey County. De Novo is a Google-funded non-profit that has one operating fixed wireless system in Mendocino County and has been looking at other areas, including Soledad in Monterey County. Both Red Shift and De Novo have been involved in testing new wireless technologies, but De Novo in particular has been working on cutting edge, open source systems – ergo the Google funding.

Given the companies’ backgrounds and, in Cricelli’s case, the large number of census blocks covered, it’s a fair assumption that the proposals involve wireless service.

Company Projects Census Blocks Request
Cricelli, Inc. 3 666 $522,300
De Novo Group 2 24 $609,600
Michael D. Donnell
dba San Joaquin Broadband
4 2,585 $14,833,187
California Total 9 3,275 $15,965,087
Percent of U.S. Total 10.5% 12.2% 16.1%

I don’t have any particular information about Michael Donnell’s proposal. The amount requested means he is likely chasing the $75 million bucket that the FCC allocated for projects that deliver 100 Mbps down/25 Mbps up to every location within the census blocks requested. And the vast spread of the proposal – 2,585 census blocks, presumably somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley, where there is no shortage of eligible area – lends itself to the assumption that it’s also a wireless project. Not certain, but I’d bet on it. I did a web search and found a Mike Donnell listed on LinkedIn who was COO of a Denver-based WISP until last May.

Getting 16% of the total money is a welcome – and unusual – win for California. The hope going into the bidding was that the state would get something like 10%, based on its share of the rural population nationwide. The California Public Utilities Commission stepped up with a 10% spiff for projects here, but there’s no way of knowing yet whether the three applicants want to take advantage of that – no pre-application was required.

Going forward, all three need to complete their financial, technical and regulatory due diligence in the next couple of weeks. In order to get the money, each needs to be certified as a telephone company by the CPUC and get a designation as an eligible telecommunications carrier from either the CPUC or FCC. As of yesterday morning, none of the companies showed up on the CPUC’s website as having filed the necessary paperwork. That could be because they haven’t, or because they did so recently and the CPUC’s system hasn’t caught up with it yet. The alternative would be to partner with a company that has the necessary regulatory blessings, but it’s not clear that the FCC would give the money to a company that didn’t actually bid.

The FCC’s press release says that more information about the provisionally approved experiments will be released later.