No progress, no paperwork, no grants for California broadband projects

9 August 2016 by Steve Blum
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Five broadband projects are about to lose funding, as the California Public Utilities Commission prepares to cancel $4.5 million worth of grants originally given to pay for construction costs. The companies that would have received the subsidies either decided not to move ahead with the project or just sort of disappeared and failed to file the proper paperwork.

Verizon had two of the projects – one in Pinyon in Riverside County and the other in the Sea Ranch area of Sonoma County. It’s not clear what, if anything, Verizon actually built, but it didn’t file necessary reports or even ask to draw down the money. So the $2.5 million it was awarded from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) will go back into the kitty. It’s odd – Verizon apparently finished the work but, for some reason, didn’t want the reimbursement.

Shasta County Telecom is losing $2.2 million for a fixed wireless project northeast of Redding, because it apparently disappeared off the face of the planet. The narrative in the draft resolution rescinding the grant reads like an account of a lost expedition to the South Pole: a cryptic message about bad weather, and then silence. Search parties couldn’t find their tracks and they were never heard from again.

A $149,000 DSL project in the Westport area of Mendocino County was cancelled, apparently because people in the local community were opposed to plans to build a microwave backhaul link. At least that’s what WillitsOnline told CPUC staff.

The private beachfront community of Monterey Dunes won’t be getting a fiber-fed upgrade. Surfnet Communications received a $79,000 grant from CASF to pay for 60% of the cost, plus a $26,000 loan to cover another 20%, but residents reneged on their agreement to pay for the rest. One of the problems, which the draft resolution neglects to mention, was that the CPUC took more than 14 months – 11 months longer than the time allowed – to process the application.

Assuming commissioners vote to cancel the subsidies, the $4.5 million will be recycled back into the CASF infrastructure grant account and become available for other projects.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted Surfnet with the Monterey Dunes project proposal. I am a frustrated commentator, not a disinterested one. Take it for what it’s worth.