California broadband subsidy requests break the bank at more than half a gigabuck

5 May 2020 by Steve Blum
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Butch cassidy explosion

Update, 5 May 2020 08:43: Charter Communications dropped 16 grant applications totalling $17 million in the wee hours of the morning. I’ve updated the table, links and totals below accordingly. Stand by, there might be more to come.

At least 41 broadband infrastructure grant proposals totalling more than half a billion dollars landed at the California Public Utilities Commission yesterday. I say at least because public notifications don’t always get out immediately. There might be more once the dust settles. Most are for fiber to the premise (FTTP) service, with an average subsidy cost of $27,000 per home. The list, with links to project summaries, is below.

There’s something like $300 million, or maybe less, in the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), so not everything proposed will be approved. It’s a new record for CASF, doubling the the $252 million requested in the 2013 round.

The big ask is from Hunter Communications for a $290 million hybrid fiber to the premise/fixed wireless build in Mendocino County. The Oregon-based company characterises its project as “last mile”, but an earlier proposal that the company distributed in April (when the project was a mere $105 million) called for a mix of middle and last mile infrastructure. Judging by yesterday’s summary, the spin and the mileage has changed but not the basic design.

The Mendocino build would be mostly along the U.S. 101 corridor, running the length of Mendocino County, from the Sonoma County line nearly to Humboldt County. It would serve 6,000 homes at a 100% subsidised cost of $49,000 each. About 600 of those homes would be reached by fixed wireless links, so the cost for fibered homes would be more than $50,000 each.

Hunter put in an application for a second project in Humboldt County, in partnership with the Hoopa Valley Public Utilities District. It’s also a hybrid fiber/wireless design, intended to serve 1,300 homes and businesses, mostly in “the highly rural, economically depressed homelands of the Hoopa Valley Tribe”. The subsidy cost is $6,900 per home, or $6,600 per location when businesses and anchor institutions are factored in. Hunter and the Hoopa Valley PUD are asking the CPUC to subsidise 86% of the project cost.

The Mendocino project is not the most expensive build on a per-home basis, though. WiConduit, a newly formed non-profit, put in a $82 million request to build FTTP infrastructure in west Sonoma County, likewise described as last mile, to 1,300 homes at a 100% subsidised cost of $61,000 each.

Frontier Communications is asking for $67 million for ten projects across California, ranging from Lake Isabella in Kern County to Crescent City in Del Norte County. The ten projects will reach 2,700 homes at an average subsidy of $25,000 each. Frontier, which filed for bankruptcy last month, is asking CASF to pay for 100% of the cost.

Plumas Sierra Telecommunications is also requesting 100% funding for six projects in its northeastern California territory. Five of the projects are pure FTTP and one is an FTTP/fixed wireless hybrid. The total comes to $32 million for 1,400 homes, for an average subsidy of $22,000.

Race Telecommunications has four FTTP project proposals on the table, at an 80% subsidy level. It’s asking the CPUC for $22 million to build out to 1,800 households, at an average subsidy of $12,000 each. Race is putting $5.5 million of skin in the game. Two projects are brand new systems in Colusa County; two projects are extensions of existing CASF-subsidised builds in Kern and Nevada counties.

Two pure wireless proposals are in the mix. Etheric Networks is asking for $3.2 million to pay for 60% of the cost of extending its fixed wireless system further into Monterey and San Benito counties, reaching 2,000 homes at a subsidy level of $1,600 each. Web Perception wants $1.5 million to serve 504 homes in Sonoma and Napa counties at $2,900 each, a 100% subsidy cost.

There’s still one project left over from 2019. The Karuk Tribe in Humboldt county applied for an extra $11 million for a middle and last mile project to reach 600 homes, mostly with wireless technology. The CPUC is scheduled to vote on that request on Thursday.

CASF Project Proposals – 4 May 2020 Grant Application Window

Project Applicant Grant
$/HU County Tech
Bella Vista Charter $715,356 60 $11,923 Shasta HFC
Brookside Charter $933,563 243 $3,842 Los Angeles HFC
Country Meadows Charter $2,165,515 314 $6,897 San Bernardino HFC
Darlene Road Charter $815,967 7 $116,567 Ventura HFC
El Dorado Estates Charter $1,477,032 276 $5,352 Ventura HFC
Foothill Terrace Charter $489,513 327 $1,497 Los Angeles HFC
Kingswood Estates Charter $1,210,006 120 $10,083 Placer HFC
Los Alisos Charter $1,299,530 451 $2,881 Orange HFC
Monterey Manor Charter $796,198 92 $8,654 San Bernardino HFC
Mountain Shadows Charter $2,006,811 132 $15,203 San Bernardino HFC
Oxnard Pacific Charter $1,725,964 171 $10,093 Ventura HFC
Plaza Village Charter $658,436 178 $3,699 Orange HFC
River Oaks Charter $829,462 45 $18,432 San Benito HFC
Riverbank Charter $299,115 43 $6,956 Stanislaus HFC
Soboda Springs Charter $983,817 249 $3,951 Riverside HFC
Villa Montclair Charter $548,279 64 $8,567 San Bernardino HFC
Butte Yuba Digital Path $872,761 582 $1,500 Butte, Yuba Wireless
Fresno County Digital Path $448,349 299 $1,499 Fresno Wireless
Glenn County Digital Path $361,500 241 $1,500 Glenn Wireless
Lake County Digital Path $123,000 82 $1,500 Lake Wireless
Mendocino County Digital Path $138,000 92 $1,500 Mendocino Wireless
Plumas Lassen Digital Path $865,000 577 $1,499 Plumas, Lassen Wireless
Sacramento County Digital Path $230,000 154 $1,494 Sacramento Wireless
Sierra County Digital Path $241,000 161 $1,497 Sierra Wireless
Siskiyou County Digital Path $138,000 92 $1,500 Siskiyou Wireless
Sutter Placer Digital Path $418,433 277 $1,511 Sutter Wireless
Tehama County Digital Path $935,976 624 $1,500 Tehama Wireless
Central Coast Etheric $3,180,330 1,976 $1,609 Monterey, San Benito Wireless
Crescent City Frontier $1,586,885 134 $11,842 Del Norte FTTP
Cuyama Frontier $12,462,755 131 $95,136 Kern, Santa Barbara FTTP
Garberville Frontier $3,776,254 106 $35,625 Humboldt FTTP
Herlong Frontier $7,668,801 273 $28,091 Lassen FTTP
Knights Landing Frontier $4,590,845 104 $44,143 Colusa, Sutter, Yolo FTTP
Lake Isabella Frontier $9,595,168 405 $23,692 Kern FTTP
Mad River Frontier $8,169,979 203 $40,246 Humboldt, Trinity FTTP
Northeast Phase 2 Frontier $10,358,969 502 $20,635 Plumas, Tehama FTTP
Piercy Frontier $7,797,273 805 $9,686 Mendocino FTTP
Smith River Frontier $1,428,479 55 $25,972 Del Norte FTTP
Hoopa Valley Hunter $8,233,340 1,198 $6,873 Humboldt FTTP, wireless
Mendocino County Hunter $290,327,940 5,870 $49,460 Mendocino FTTP, wireless
Long Valley Plumas Sierra $4,118,255 54 $76,264 Plumas FTTP
Mohawk Valley Plumas Sierra $2,271,039 54 $42,056 Plumas FTTP
Portola Plumas Sierra $2,587,677 85 $30,443 Plumas FTTP
Scott Road Plumas Sierra $4,307,475 88 $48,949 Lassen, Sierra FTTP
Sierra Valley Plumas Sierra $5,123,342 283 $18,104 Plumas, Sierra FTTP, wireless
Southern Lassen Plumas Sierra $13,630,662 868 $15,704 Lassen FTTP
Gigafy Arbuckle Race $4,241,181 480 $8,836 Colusa FTTP
Gigafy Backus 2 Race $4,702,649 266 $17,679 Kern FTTP
Gigafy Nevada City Race $6,154,776 499 $12,334 Nevada FTTP
Gigafy Williams Race $6,758,805 588 $11,495 Colusa FTTP
Sonoma/Napa Web Perception $1,450,697 504 $2,878 Napa. Sonoma Wireless
West Sonoma County WiConduit $81,886,095 1,342 $61,018 Sonoma FTTP
Total $528,136,253 22,826 $23,137

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) supported Charter’s San Benito County proposal and assisted Etheric Networks with its application. I assisted the CCBC and also kibitzed on other projects. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.