Petrolia project shows how middle mile subsidies boost last mile speeds

21 June 2015 by Steve Blum
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Frontier Communications is asking the California Public Utilities Commission for $203,000 from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to pay for 60% of the cost of upgrading a microwave link between the tiny and remote Humboldt County town of Petrolia and high capacity fiber backhaul to the north in Ferndale. The application made it through the review process, and is now scheduled to be voted on by the CPUC next month.

The draft resolution points out that although it’s technically a middle mile project, the value is strictly last mile…

Existing low-capacity microwave radios will be replaced by higher capacity microwave radios…Ethernet aggregation switches and associated technologies will be installed at the telephone switch centers…There is no need to upgrade/modify the existing copper infrastructure. Hence this is a middle-mile project which directly improves last-mile broadband capacity for Petrolia residents.

[Frontier] currently offers the area maximum broadband speeds of 700 Kbps download and 500 Kbps upload. The upgrade of the microwave radios and associated equipment, combined with the addition of Ethernet aggregation switches, will enable maximum broadband speeds of 25 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload.

The project will upgrade available service to 138 homes, making the per household subsidy about $1,500, which is on the cheap end of typical CASF projects. Of those homes, 82 subscribe to Frontier’s current slow service and company expects the speed boost to generate about 20 subscriptions, bringing the Internet take rate in Petrolia to 75%.

The idea for it came from the Redwood Coast Broadband Consortium, which proposed it to Frontier and got it included on a list of high priority projects approved by the CPUC last year.