CEO provides details on Digital 395 progess and cost overruns

Yellow dots highlight unfinished business.

If the Digital 395 project doesn’t get the extra $10 million its backers are requesting from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), it will still be technically capable of providing service to some eastern California communities. Michael Ort, the CEO of Praxis Associates, gave a progress report on the project to the California Broadband Council yesterday, detailing work done so far, what’s left to do and, most importantly, why the state should spend more money to finish it.

As designed, the project is a 535 mile fiber optic backbone stretching from Reno and Carson City, Nevada in the north to Barstow, California in the south, generally along the same route followed by U.S. highway 395.

Ort told the council that the north half of the network already reaches from Reno to the town of Mammoth Lakes, about 170 miles by road, and from Barstow up to Ridgecrest, about 80 miles. Work is continuing for now, with the 130 (road) miles between Ridgecrest and Bishop expected to be done by next month.

That leaves a 40 mile gap between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, including a nine mile segment through the Inyo National Forest where conduit still has to be installed. The gap includes four communities where Race Telecommunications is proposing to build fiber-to-the-home systems, with the help of $4.7 million dollars also requested from CASF.

Besides leaving the Mammoth-Bishop segment unserved, not completing the construction would make the rest of the network less valuable – maybe to the point of being financially unsustainable – because there would be no direct communications between the two halves.

The chairman of the council is Michael Peevey, who is also president of the California Public Utilities Commission, which manages CASF. Because he’s going to have to vote on the $10 million request he didn’t say much, except to acknowledge there are “a few challenges left” and warning that “cost is a matter of some concern”.