California's Lost Coast found in a Frontier CASF proposal

7 March 2015 by Steve Blum
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The western edge of Humboldt County is known as the Lost Coast. The name comes from both the wave of depopulation the area experienced during the Depression, and from the fact that its rugged terrain left it largely ignored by state highway construction plans. The area was likewise bypassed by telecoms infrastructure.

Frontier Communications is the local phone company, having taken over the original rural telco that served the area. Don’t even ask about cable.

In the middle of it all, sits the town of Petrolia, a community of something like 400 people. Frontier is asking the California Public Utilities Commission for $203,000 from the California Advanced Services Fund for a middle mile project to boost bandwidth there…

The area is fed by microwave and can only currently provide a speed of 700 kbps down and 500 kbps up. This project will overbuild the existing microwave radio system with a new Cambium Ethernet radio to provide download speeds of up to 25Mbps and upload speeds of up to 2 Mbps.

Unlike AT&T or Verizon, Frontier has embraced the CASF program as a way to improve broadband service in rural areas. It was the only incumbent provider – telco or cable – to exercise its right of first refusal to upgrade underserved areas using its own money. In the past, it’s applied for half a dozen CASF grants, all in five or low-six figure range.

The Petrolia proposal won’t put much of a dent in the CASF infrastructure grant fund. There’s about $160 million available, give or take, and only $54 million in pending requests so far.