Thursday, January 21, 2010

California PUC approves $7.9 million supplemental broadband stimulus funding for 9,000 square mile Central Valley wireless project

The California Public Utilities Commission today conditionally approved a resolution providing $7.9 million in supplemental funding for a major wireless broadband project requesting federal funding via broadband infrastructure subsidies allocated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The supplemental funding allocated from California PUCs' California Advanced Services Fund covers half of a 20 percent recipient match required under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and is contingent on federal funding approval.

The California Valley Broadband (CVB) project, proposed by a the consortium of Moreno Trenching Ltd, Mika Telecom Group and MT2 Telecom, LP, plans to build wireless infrastructure that will serve about 77,195 households in Fresno, Madera, Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, and Stanislaus counties. The consortium claims it will deliver Internet connectivity and VoIP over nearly 9,000 square miles at speeds of up to 20 Mbs on the download side and up to 6 Mbs uploads using two unregulated (WiFi) frequencies and one licensed (WiMAX) frequency "to accommodate range, terrain, tree and other interference issues."

The CVB project faced multiple challenges from incumbent telco and cable companies who claimed they already serve census block groups in the proposed CVB footprint. But PUC staff rejected the bulk of the challenged census block groups finding the incumbents didn't offer broadband as the California PUC defines it: at least 3 Mbs for downloads and 1 Mbs on the upload side.

It remains to be seen however how the NTIA will respond to protests the incumbents lodged against CVB's proposed project that is pending approval for the 80 percent BTOP subsidy.

In allowing incumbents to contest proposed broadband infrastructure projects in the first round of stimulus funding that closed last summer, both the NTIA and the Rural Utilities Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- which is also distributing a portion of the broadband stimulus funds -- set the stage for an adversarial process that by implication would require the agencies to adjudicate contested applications. However, it's likely they are less able than the California PUC to carry out that function since the PUC can reference the state's broadband availability maps and has dedicated staff evaluating comparatively far fewer proposed projects.

Since putting in place a process to resolve applications contested by the incumbents and make findings of fact regarding whether the area of a proposed infrastructure project is underserved or unserved requires substantial time and resources, my guess is the two federal agencies simply put contested applications into a "hold" file while trying to figure out how to square the applications with incumbent telco/cable objections. That would explain why so many now impatient applicants haven't heard anything whatsoever after rushing to get their applications in by the first round funding deadline in mid-August of 2009 after having been initially led to believe they'd know by the year end holidays at the latest whether their projects were approved for funding.

This sets the stage for political blow back from federal and state representatives in areas where broadband stimulus projects in their districts are stuck in limbo after hearing from frustrated constituents asking them to expedite approval of their applications. The incumbents couldn't stop the broadband stimulus provisions from becoming law in the rush to enact ARRA one year ago. So they may instead opted to fend off threats to their territorial hegemony (remember, an incumbent telco/cable "service territory" doesn't mean everyone is served) in a "death by a thousand cuts" strategy to vector and shoot down stimulus applications one by one.


Bill said...

20Mbps down and 6Mbps up to the customer using WiFi? Please... They just knew how to fill out the PUC and NTIA forms. This project will be just another failure of Obama's "stimulus" package.

They may be able to get 20Mbps down on the bench, but just wait until they start dealing with real world applications.

What a joke, 7.9 Million down the tube...

Fred Pilot said...

Good point, Bill. Wireless IP speed claims at this early state of the technology and the importance of adequate backhaul require these high "up to" throughput speeds not to be taken literally. Latency must also be taken into account in the overall customer experience.

Anonymous said...

NTIA declined to fund this proposal.

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