California broadband subsidy proposals total $44 million as challenge period opens

16 May 2019 by Steve Blum
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Krrbi update 3may2019

Two more proposals for California broadband construction subsidies were posted on the California Public Utilities Commission’s website yesterday, bringing the number of pending applications to 15, for a total of $44 million in grants requested from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). One project involves an upgrade to an existing wireless Internet service provider’s facilities near Petaluma, in Sonoma County. The other is a request for more money for a stalled middle mile project in Humboldt County.

In 2013, the Karuk Tribe, working with the Yurok Tribe, received a $6.6 million grant to build a middle mile fiber route that would connect tribal lands and other nearby communities in northern Humboldt County to long haul fiber networks. The project never got fully underway, though. So it was redesigned, with a bigger budget. Originally, the entire project would have cost $13 million, split nearly evenly between the CASF grant and money contributed by the tribes. Now, it’s specced to cost $26 million, with more than two-thirds of that coming from CASF. The new grant request is for $11 million, bringing the total state subsidy to $18 million.

The Klamath River area is remote and lacks modern broadband service. Poverty levels are high, and infrastructure, in general, is lacking. On the face of it, the rebooted Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative is exactly what CASF was created to fund. The question will be whether a middle mile project first developed under the old CASF program will still be fundable under 2017 rules written and rigged for the benefit of major campaign contributors incumbent service providers. Frontier Communications is the legacy telco in or around that part of Humboldt County, and lobbied hard for those changes. Now, a middle mile fiber project can only receive CASF subsidies if it is “indispensable” to delivering last mile service to homes, and federally subsidised areas are off limits to everyone except, in this case, Frontier.

The new rules don’t apply to the original grant but likely will for any new money, particularly since the project was significantly redesigned. Frontier can be counted on to guard its turf, and not always with the full truth. It won’t be an easy decision for commissioners.

The Sonoma County proposal was submitted by Web Perception, a WISP that has several access points near Petaluma. It’s asking for $5.1 million to add back haul capacity and an access point to its existing system. It claims that the upgrade will make it possible to reach 5,500 homes it can’t reach now, at least, presumably, at the California legislature’s woeful minimum speed level of 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. Based on the map prepared by the CPUC, this project could also run into trouble with the new eligibility restrictions.

The next step is to sit back and wait for challenges from providers that might claim to already offer service in the 14 project areas proposed for CASF subsidies in this latest round (one pending application was submitted last year). Incumbents have three weeks to file their objections.

Karuk Tribe, Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative Project Update, 3 May 2019

WebPerception, Rural Internet Service Expansion into East Petaluma / West Sonoma, 1 May 2019

I’m collecting the 2019 CASF infrastructure grant proposals here. Information about the program is here.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium assisted Cruzio with its Equal Access Santa Cruz grant application, and I was a part of that. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.