No opening day CASF gold rush

2 December 2014 by Steve Blum
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There was no stampede for the newest round of broadband infrastructure grants and loans from the California Advanced Services Fund. No project applications were filed yesterday, the first day of the new season. Or at least, there were no notifications sent out – applicants are supposed to send a project summary to a service list maintained by the CPUC. And yes, I checked my spam folder.

Even so, there are still project proposals totalling $26.2 million in the hopper, left over from the last round, which closed nearly 2 years ago, on 1 February 2013. ViaSat has an active application that originally asked for $11.1 million to buy satellite terminals for subscribers across a wide swath of western California.

It’s a fine idea in many respects – some homes are so remote that satellite Internet service is the only technically and economically viable option. But under CASF rules, every home in the massive project area – not just the relative handful opting for satellite service – would be taken off the table for future subsidies for several years. That little problem along with a flood of protests from ISPs that operate under that footprint have stalled ViaSat’s proposal.

The other proposal still under consideration – $15.2 million for a fiber-to-the-home system in Nevada County submitted by Spiral Internet – also ran into stiff opposition from incumbents. Particularly from a fixed wireless company that had received a stimulus grant several years ago. That problem seems to be solved, mainly by waiting it out, and the proposal is back under active consideration.

The current round stays open until the available money – something like $160 million – runs out. The last time, there was a set deadline, which saw more than 30 applications drop on the same day, ready or not. This time, the thinking is that keeping the window open will allow applicants to take the time to fully prepare, and let the CPUC quickly reject deficient applications without prejudice. So far, so good. If, instead of a flood, there’s a steady trickle of quality projects, it can fairly be called a success.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted with the Spiral Internet CASF application, among others, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.