CPUC queues up $24 million subsidy for 11 California broadband projects

4 November 2019 by Steve Blum
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Mobile home park

Eleven broadband infrastructure projects by four companies will be considered by the California Public Utilities Commission next month. Draft resolutions approving California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) subsidies for 11 out of the 13 grant proposals submitted in the May application window were posted on Thursday. The drafts are linked below.

Making the CPUC’s new six month deadline for processing applications is a major milestone for staff, and they deserve congratulations. In the past, reviews have sometimes dragged on for years, with endless and often meritless challenges allowed from marginal broadband providers who wanted to fence off service-poor communities. There was mischief this time around – Digital Path, a wireless ISP, tried to claim a vast swath of northeastern California for example – but challenges were rigorously vetted.

The 11 grants total $23.8 million. The projects would extend broadband service to 1,219 homes, for an average subsidy of $19,500 each. There’s wide variance within that average, though, largely due to where those homes are.

Casf grant totals draft resolution 31oct2019

Frontier Communications is up for $11.1 million, which would pay for VDSL upgrades for the 263 homes in Modoc and Lassen counties in northeastern California and the Taft area in Kern County. According to Frontier, the technology is capable of delivering broadband speeds of up to 115 Mbps download and 7 Mbps upload, but the company is only promising to provide the CASF program’s absolute minimum of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up.

Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Co-op is in line for five grants in Plumas and Lassen counties, totalling $8.9 million. Most of the 414 homes will receive direct fiber-to-the-premise service at a minimum of 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up, although the system will be able to deliver symmetrical gigabit service. One of the projects, in Lake Davis in Plumas County, is a combo fiber and wireless build, with about half the homes receiving fixed wireless broadband service at the minimum of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up.

Cruzio, an independent Internet service provider based in Santa Cruz, has one grant for $2.4 million on the table. It targets 263 homes in seven mobile home parks in Santa Cruz County. It’s a full fiber-to-the-premise project, with symmetrical, 1 Gbps down and up promised.

Charter Communications has three grants totalling $1.4 million pending. The projects would extend its hybrid fiber coax plant to two mobile home parks in Riverside and Ventura counties and a neighborhood in Highland in San Bernardino County. The company promises to provide a minimum of 940 Mbps down/35 Mbps up speeds to a total of 279 homes. The draft resolution would also give Charter a pass on the CASF program requirement that monthly subscription prices, for at least some of a grant recipient’s broadband service tiers, be guaranteed for at least two years. A second exception requested by Charter – that it be allowed to charge for equipment and installation – was denied.

The $23.8 million total is $8.3 million less than originally requested for the 11 projects. Most were scaled back, for a variety of reasons including challenges from existing providers, overlaps with federally subsidised areas and due diligence verifications by CPUC staff. Two grant applications – one by Charter in Riverside County and another by Web Perceptions, a local wireless ISP in Sonoma County – are missing from Thursday’s batch. Charter’s proposed project in Perris in Riverside County was challenged by Frontier (and Charter returned the favor for Frontier’s Taft project, albeit only with partial success). Web Perceptions’ application wasn’t challenged but, judging by the publicly available information, it was poorly prepared. It’s a fair assumption that both were denied, but there’s no official word.

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

Charter Communications – Highland Orchid Drive, Country Squire Mobile Estates , Silver Wheel
Cruzio – Equal Access Santa Cruz
Frontier Communications – Northeast Project: Phase1
Frontier Communications – Taft Cluster
Plumas Sierra – Mohawk Vista Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Elysian Valley Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Keddie Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Lake Davis Mid-Mile/Last Mile
Plumas Sierra – Eureka Mid-Mile/Last Mile