Middle mile plan plugs northern California gap but needs open access guarantee

19 November 2015 by Steve Blum
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Open access rules are only as strong as the weakest link.

Siskiyou Telephone Company is asking for a $5.8 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to plug a 22-mile fiber gap between the Siskiyou County towns of Happy Camp and Somes Bar. The middle mile project would boost broadband capacity in the region by providing the last link in a fiber chain that runs from Eureka on the coast to Yreka on the I-5 corridor, according to the publicly posted project summary.

It would connect to Siskiyou’s existing fiber network to the north and south, and, further south, a CASF-funded middle mile fiber project built by the Karuk tribe. The company says that other customers are already lining up to use it…

Light Speed Networks has already made inquiries about using this route to go from Yreka to Orick as part of a “Far North California” fiber ring…Verizon Wireline has ordered two T-1 facilities from Orleans to Somes Bar (and on to Redding) to provide reliable voice service into and out of Orleans. Frontier Communications, who plans to buy the Orleans exchange from Verizon Wireline, has indicated verbally that it might be interested in a 1 Gbps Ethernet data route from Orleans, through Siskiyou Telephone’s network, to Redding.

As you might expect, the one thing you don’t see in the summary is a commitment to providing open access at rates appropriate to the subsidy to anyone who might want to lease dark fiber on the route. That’s something that could be added in later by the California Public Utilities Commission, as it did with the Karuk (aka KRRBI) middle mile project

[CPUC] staff has checked with the KRRBI Project team to determine if it is building sufficient fiber strands and capacity is being built into the KRRBI middle-mile part of the project to ensure that the network is able to support future demand such as access to dark fiber to wholesale providers. The Karuk Tribe has confirmed that enough fiber and capacity will be built to support future demands. In its application, KRRBI states that two conduits will be placed in a ditch and a single, 72 strand fiber optic cable will be placed in one of these conduits. The unallocated fiber strands and the unused conduit space will allow for future expansion of the system without additional ground disturbance. The KRRBI middle mile network shall be made available for wholesale access to other potential CASF grantees at reasonable rates and terms. These reasonable rates shall be at cost.

Siskiyou’s specs are the same: 72 strands of fiber and two conduits. If the CPUC pays to close Siskiyou’s middle mile gap and greatly raise of the value of the rest of its fiber network, it should impose the same open access requirement.