Jul 252010

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, let alone something about local broadband news. What can I say, I’ve been busy! Most stuff goes on Twitter these days because it’s fast. But there’s been plenty of broadband news and discussion lately, so I thought I’d gather some of that stuff together here. I’m sure I’ve missed things. Feel free to add to the information in the comments.

The Humboldt County General Plan Update continues it’s long and torturous process toward completion. The Planning Commissions will (I hope), be addressing a the new Telecommunications Element (soon to be changed to the Communications Element?)  at next week’s meeting on the 29th. The proposed document is worth a review if you have any interest in how the County might frame communications policies for the next 20 years. Folks from the Redwood Technology Consortium, Access Humboldt and the California Center for Rural Policy have been reviewing the document and are submitting written and oral comment. Access Humboldt has posted the most recent meeting where people gave oral support for the new element. Comments relative to the Communications Element begin around 1 hour and 11 minutes in to the video.

The highly hyped Highway 299 fiber build proposed by Broadband Associates a year or so ago has gone nowhere. As a result the grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) that was supposed to help fund the project has been withdrawn, making the money available for other projects. According to Humboldt County Supervisor Mark Lovelace (see the video from RTC’s June 10th luncheon), there are players ready to take up the project and that the 299 corridor fiber build has a lot of support at the state level.

In the meantime a proposal from Redwood Telephone, a company formed through a coalition of local tribes has been tentatively approved pending a comment period and a final decision scheduled for August 12. This is an interesting proposal and it’s well worth looking at as it seems to have the ambition of providing broadband to much of the region, including unserved and underserved areas and even regions already covered by the incumbent ISPs such as AT&T and Suddenlink. It’s not clear to me how this will work. Would appreciate some input in the comments.

Meanwhile the proposed middle mile fiber build along Highway 36 by IP Networks appears to be moving forward at least as far as planning, rights of way, contractual agreements and funding (some of which is also coming from CASF). According to a newsletter put out by the Redwood Regional Economic Development Commission (RREDC), “The fiber optic project is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2011.” Apparently 101 Netlink is involved in providing some local wireless service feeds off this fiber line along that sparsely populated corridor. That’s a good thing. But it’s unclear if this fiber line will provide any blanket redundancy for our region.

We’re still waiting to hear if our regional proposal to Google’s Community Fiber program will go anywhere.

Finally, I have heard an unconfirmed rumor that Charter Communications that services Del Norte County and parts of Southern Oregon with cable and Internet is in talks with Suddenlink to purchase their Humboldt County system. If it does, the story goes, Charter would build another fiber line running north-south along 101 to connect it’s fiber in the north to AT&T’s line here.

I have no idea how any of these plans and projects will play out and whether any of them will lead to more stable service, higher speeds, more coverage, or lower cost for consumers. But one can hope.

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Jan 262010

The Federal government is continuing to announce awards from the USDA (just one in California and it’s not for our region) and the Dept. of Commerce (nothing for California) for the first round of broadband stimulus funds.

Now the second round of the application process is gearing up. They will be holding workshops around the country and providing live Webinars (one from Portland is going on this morning).

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Oct 302009

Yesterday was declared the birthday of the Internet. It’s  been an amazing 40 years. And the next 40 years will be even more amazing as the developments are accelerating. But one of the roadblocks to this future online world is our inadequate infrastructure – the too thin, too fragile tubes that are supposed to carry the rising flood of data.

The 7 billion or so dollars the Federal government is supposed to pass out for broadband infrastructure improvements, particularly for rural and underserved areas holds a lot of promise. But the distribution of those funds for real projects is hellishly slow and fraught with confusion.

For example, the first announced stimulus money is going to several states to undertake studies to map where broadband is deployed and where it isn’t. More studies? Don’t we already know where better broadband service is needed?fiber_optic

Now we learn that the current round of proposals that were supposed to be announced in early November won’t be announced until December. Given the number of questions raised by Congress there may be further delays while those questions and issues get sorted out. What constitutes “remote” for example:

Rockefeller echoed concerns expressed in the House about the definition of remote, which is currently defined as at least 50 miles from an urban area.

Adelstein said there is a growing consensus that the 50 miles might have been the wrong figure, and that there were other ways to define remote, like population density or income.

Rockefeller pushed the issue, asking whether that change would be made. “There is really no excuse for us not doing that,” he said. Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) also has problems with the current definition. He asked for more specficis.

Adelstein said everything is on the table in what will be a top-to-bottom review of how to better define remote, but at the same time not make the definition too complicated. “We’ll help you,” said Kerry.

Pretty crucial.

In the meantime, locally,  several proposals have been submitted and are waiting to learn if they will receive funding. Apparently, there is a short list but I have not found any information on which projects, if any, are on that list. Among the original proposals is one by Broadband Associates to build fiber along 299 with local access points along the way.

A competing proposal by IP Networks along Highway 36 that would not be providing local access. The latter project has a application before the California Public Utilities Commission’s California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). (Download the PDF for this grant application) Several local entities including the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro have sent letters of support to CASF for this project.

But others in the region are concerned that if the IP Networks project is funded either by California or the Federal Government, it will preclude funding for any other projects such as Broadband Associate’s 299 fiber build. This confusion and lack of unity as to what’s best for the region suggests a need for creating a region-wide telecommunications committee that would be able to address the region as a whole and provide planning and guidance in a coordinated way. There has been some discussion over creating such an entity, but nothing formal has emerged. It would be a shame if we started working at cross purposes instead of making wise choices that benefit the most people now and in to the future.

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Aug 152009

When the Federal government announced that $7 billion would become available to improve the broadband infrastructure, some folks around here got excited. When it became clear that much of the funding would be given to help rural and under served areas, some of those folks got to work.

At first it seemed the best approach would be to cobble together a regional proposal that would present a large enough profile to draw the attention of the funding agencies. To that end several people from HSU, the Humboldt Area Foundation and other agencies began to plan a strategy to bundle a number of possible projects that would span multiple counties, bring middle mile fiber through several paths, provide redundancy and offer access to local ISPs to serve rural areas. The idea was modeled on a regional water resources project that got high praises from state officials.

Then the Feds handed down the rules. You see, all this work was speculative. No one really knew what the rules for applying would be. But the people I met with felt a regionally organized and presented application would be preferred to a bunch of unrelated, potentially competing smaller proposals. Wrong. The Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) laid down rules that essentially derailed any kind of regional aggregated application. I won’t go in to details about those rules here.  But suffice to say that in one sense, everyone who wanted to do a broadband project in the area was on their own. How the Feds expect to sort out the potentially competing proposals, especially with our unique regional geography, demographics, economics and history of broadband activism is beyond me. And may be beyond them as well.

While the dream of a grand unified regional broadband proposal has died for this round of funding, the groundwork that was laid for such a project may not go in vain. For one, there has been a coalescing of county government and economic development people who have been attempting to vet some of the known projects being put forward. They have identified  four projects that they feel have the potential to meet many of the goals they were striving for in their own proposal. These are:

Redwood Telephone: Which would build a middle mile fiber network from Southern Humboldt to the Oregon border and connect to Charter Communications in Oregon and AT&T fiber in the south. This proposal features Fiber to the Premises along the 101 corridor and feeders in to the rural areas of the region. They also promise low cost fiber for government services.

AccessMendo: Would build a middle mile network for Mendocino County but will also extend in to parts of Southern Humboldt.

Broadband Associates: The original company that won state funding for building a fiber line along the 299 corridor. This project would provide access points for wired and wireless ISPs to offer last mile services.

IP Networks: Originally this proposal was going to build middle mile along the Highway 36 corridor. But in the last few days seems to have morphed in to a complete loop that ties Highway 36 to a fiber line along 299 and provide access points along the way. As the deadline for applications approached (originally this was supposed to be Friday, August 14) this proposal has continued to morph.

The proposals have been seeking letters of endorsement from government entities and other organizations and people of influence. But with such a short turn around time, shifting proposals and a shortage of expertise for assessing  the proposals, many have been relying on Kathy Moxon from the Humboldt Area Foundation to provide some guidance on what to endorse. The deadline for applications has since been extended to August 20, so I assume the field will change again between now and then.

Once this round of proposals get shipped out with whatever viability they can muster, people will begin planning for the next round of funding, which appears to be several months off, armed with what was learned and organized in preparation for this initial round. I have no idea if any of the above proposal will get funding, or if some others that I am not aware of will find favor with the Feds.

So much still seems to be unknown about this process. But I’m certain that by the time the next proposals are due the landscape will be sure to have changed considerably.

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