Surprise, Trona and Searles Valley! You've been chopped

18 January 2016 by Steve Blum
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“Do the folks in Trona and Searles Valley that initially expressed strong support for this project, are they aware of this change?” asked commissioner Mike Florio as the California Public Utilities Commission considered a greatly trimmed fiber to the home project proposed for several high desert communities.

“No they are not, mostly likely they are not, unless they were attending today’s meeting and received the [revised] version”, replied Rob Wullenjohn, the CPUC staff manager who oversees the California Advanced Services Fund CASF). That revised version was posted on the CPUC’s website only the day before the meeting.

The change for people in Trona and Searles Valley is mighty drastic: they’ve been cut out of project due to a last minute market entry and protest by a wireless service provider.

The discussion then dove into procedural minutia, with the consensus being that because the cutback was the result of a decision by the applicant, Race Telecommunications, the only options were to approve it or not.

That’s not true. Commissioners also had the option of bumping it to a later meeting to give the hundreds of people living in Trona and Searles Valley a chance to express an opinion and learn more details about how the cut back came about.

Commissioner Catherine Sandoval said the door wasn’t permanently shut for them. “If we were to go ahead and approve this particular application…that it would actually would be helpful to any future work. This particular application will connect to Digital 395 and also take advantage of the previous CASF grant that we granted that Race built out in Boron”, she said.

The vote was 4 to 1 in favor of the chopped down version, with president Michael Picker voting no after expressing concerns about subscriber acquisition rates.

But the door is shut for now. Three smaller towns – Randsburg, Johannesburg, and Red Mountain – will get FTTH service, starting at $25 per month for symmetrical 25 Mbps service. Trona and Searles Valley will not.