Competitive ADSL upgrade subsidies recommended for California's Mendocino County

27 September 2013 by Steve Blum
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DSL upgrades installed by a competitive local exchange carrier in two Mendocino county towns will be largely paid for by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), if the California Public Utilities Commission approves draft resolutions released yesterday. With AT&T and Verizon quietly shutting down DSL service in rural areas of California, these types of projects might be a way to avoid forcing residents to rely on the costly wireless service preferred by the incumbents.

Both projects were proposed by WillitsOnline. One involves installing ADSL2+ equipment in AT&T central office in Boonville, and connecting it to leased fiber that runs back to a switch WillitsOnline is building in Ukiah. About 600 homes will be offered speeds up to 25 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload via AT&T’s existing copper. Eighty percent of the cost of the project would come from CASF, $123,000 as a grant and $41,000 as a loan.

WillitsOnline walks the walk, but can it talk the talk?

In Westport, a once thriving logging town in the far north of the county, WillitsOnline proposes to install an outdoor DSLAM next to AT&T’s terminal and build a microwave backhaul link to feed it. They’ll use AT&T’s subscriber lines to offer 6 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up to 126 homes. Because about half those homes have no broadband service available, except from satellite ISPs, CASF would contribute $149,000 in grant funding to the project, which is 65% of the cost. CASF gives grants of up to 70% of the cost of infrastructure projects in underserved areas and 60% in underserved ones.

Comcast tried to block the Boonville project, telling the CPUC it offered broadband service in the proposed area. After digging into the details, though, CPUC staff determined Comcast had its geography wrong and dismissed the challenge.

These days, Boonville is probably best known for its microbrewery, but it has a special place in California history as the only town to develop its own indigenous language, called Boontling. In the 1970s, it was also passingly infamous as the site of an indoctrination camp run by the Moonies.

Putting Boonville online will be good for the community, and good fun for the rest of us.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted with several CASF proposals in the current round, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.