Richmond's hail mary aside, second batch of CASF public housing proposals looks pretty much like the first

12 April 2015 by Steve Blum
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The second round of applications for grants to install broadband facilities in California public housing projects produced about as many proposals as the first, but the total ask is more than three times as high.

Forty-eight proposals seeking a total of $4.4 million were sent to the California Public Utilities Commission by the 1 April 2015 deadline, versus 52 totalling $1.3 million submitted three months earlier. The difference is in the technologies proposed.

The lion’s share of the requests this time around – $3 million – came from the Richmond Housing Authority in western Contra Costa County. It would pay for pulling fiber to three public housing properties and running Cat 6 cable through the buildings. Bandwidth would be provided by a non-profit – the Internet Archive – although the application didn’t commit to any particular service level.

At first glance, though, there are problems with the three applications. Public housing grants from the California Advanced Services Fund are only supposed to be for inside wiring, and not for constructing offsite fiber backhaul. It’s not entirely clear that’s part of the grant budget, but it looks that way. Regardless, CPUC’s project goals set an average budget of $500 per unit; Richmond is asking for about $10,000 per unit. One more cause for scepticism: according to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has labeled Richmond “as one of the worst-run housing agencies in the country“. That’s a finding that’s well supported by CIR’s own reporting.

Most of the remaining 45 applications are for WiFi mesh networks, with some DSL upgrades thrown in. If you back out the Richmond application, this round produced much the same results as the first one. There’s plenty left of the $20 million in the CASF public housing kitty. Next due date for applications is 1 July 2015.