California broadband project subsidy requests trimmed, but most might go to the back of the line

14 October 2020 by Steve Blum
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Sunesys build freedom blvd 625Three revised broadband project grant applications to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) were posted over the past couple of days. Two fiber to the premise builds – Frontier Communications’ in Crescent City and Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications’ in the Scott Road area of Lassen and Sierra counties – were trimmed by a few hundred thousand dollars. But another – Hunter Communication’s $290 million proposal in Mendocino County – was slashed to $158 million.

Even so, Hunter’s prospects are dismal. There’s something like $216 million left in CASF, assuming the California Public Utilities Commission approves doubling the tax on phone bills that pays for it. If the CPUC goes ahead with its possible plan to use CASF money to juice up bids for the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction later this month, top priority will likely be projects that tap into both subsidy programs.

Four current applicants for CASF grants qualified to bid in the reverse auction for subsidies from the Federal Communications Commission’s $16 billion RDOF pot later this month. Hunter wasn’t one of them. Even if it wasn’t asking for three-quarters of the available money, the odds of there being much money left for it are low. First dibs on funding in that area would go to a successful RDOF bidder, if any.

Frontier and Plumas-Sierra, on the other hand, could go to the top of the list. Along with two wireless ISPs that applied for CASF money – Digital Path and Etheric Networks – they were blessed by the FCC.

Of the remaining seven companies that applied for CASF grants last May, four didn’t qualify. There’s no indication that the remaining three, including Hunter, applied, although it’s possible they’re hiding behind a shell company or within a bidding group.

The full list is here.

The new breakdown is:

2020 CASF applicants, as of 14 October 2020

Applicant Projects RDOF eligible? CASF grant request
Digital Path 11 Yes $4,772,019
Etheric Networks 1 Yes $3,180,330
Frontier Communications 10 Yes $67,261,816
Plumas Sierra Telecoms 6 Yes $31,438,450
Charter Communications 16 ? $16,954,563
Exwire 1 ? $4,464,478
Hunter Communications 2 ? $166,378,918
Nevada County Fiber 1 No $552,208
Race Telecommunications 4 No $21,857,411
Web Perception 1 No $1,450,697
WiConduit 1 No $81,886,095
Total     $400,196,985