CEQA Friction Delays El Dorado Broadband Two Years

by Russ Steele

In 2012 a citizen of Greenwood places a petition in the Greenwood Hardware Store requesting broadband for the community. Over 50 people signed the petition. In December of 2012 Brent Smith, then SEDCorp CEO, sent me a copy of the survey, which I put in an Excel Spreadsheet and plotted the information using Arc/GIS Online. This map was made available to the ISPs in El Dorado County, including Cal.Net. The Gold Country Broadband Consortial held a public meeting in the Greenwood to confirm the demand for community-wide broadband.

In March of 2015 Cal.Net submitted a proposal to the California Public Utility Commission for a CSAF grant to construct the last mile fixed-wireless network to provide broadband Internet in North El Dorado County, including the community of Greenwood. See Calnet_El_Dorado_N_Project_Summary [Funding later increased to cover CEQA Cost]

Greenwood_plot12-2012
Greenwood Hardware Store Petition

On January 14, 2016, the Commission adopted Resolution T- 17497, conditionally authorizing a CASF grant of $1,139,755 to Cal.Net to construct the El Dorado North broadband project, subject to the Commission’s completion of CEQA review. The grant represented 60 percent of the total estimated project cost of $1,899,591.

This week, 27 April of 2018, the CPUC released the money to start the project.

Resolution T-17603: Authorizing the release of California Advanced Services Fund grant monies to Cal.net, Inc. (U-1340-C) to construct the El Dorado North broadband project; and approving the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration prepared in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act for the El Dorado North broadband project.

Broadband in Greenwood is and the other communities: Quintette, Buckeye, Volcanoville, Fornis, Meadowbrook and Garden Valley covered in the proposal is still a year or more away.

The need identified in 2012, it will most likely be 2019 or 2020 before the good people of Greenwood get access to broadband, in a state that brags about its technical accomplishments. It took two-plus years to accomplish an environmental review for the project, requiring Cal.Net to invest hours and hours of human resources while the CEQA process ground slowly forward. Smaller companies with fewer resources than Cal.Net would most likely have abandoned the project. Cal.Net dedication to the community is extraordinary.

If I lived in Greenwood, I would be livid, waiting seven years for broadband to my community would more than I could deal with.  Technology which would increase economic development and jobs in the County delayed.  Our political leaders need to look at the process, as seven years it too long to wait, in a state that brags to others about its technology. Technology is not the issue; the issue is regulatory friction. Something our political leaders can change.

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Pai To Gulf Coast

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is also hitting the road this week. The agency head will participate in roundtables with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Rep. Gus Bilirakis as he makes his way to cities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Pai is set to discuss how high-speed internet affects job growth and business development as part of his road trip across the Gulf Coast.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech [Editor highlighted Text]

Looking forward to a Pai’s road trip through the Sierra to talk about the lack of broadband for job growth and economic development. Maybe Congressman La Malfa can arrange a tour?

Microsoft’s Latest Rural Broadband Push

Microsoft’s latest rural broadband push: Microsoft and Declaration Networks today are unveiling plans to deploy broadband using TV White Spaces and other tech in the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Garrett County, Maryland, according to a news release.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

The Microsoft Press Release is HERE

In addition to introducing new service and technology, Microsoft is including digital skills training.

In addition to commercial partnerships with local companies like Declaration, Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative includes digital skills training for people in newly connected communities and access to royalty-free patents. Proceeds from Airband connectivity projects will be reinvested into the program to expand broadband to more rural areas.

We need a Sierra Airband demonstration project. All the 5G hype is ignoring the reality that 5G does not work well in rural settings, with a requirement for a clear line of sight. Limitations that Airband can mitigate.

 

New Space Tools for Economic Development.

Below is an email from Planet, formally Planet Lab, offering access to a global database of images providing the broadband user a new set of tools for exploring the planet and creating new ideas for analysis and possible business applications.

Hi Russell,

Planet has about 500 images for every given location on Earth’s landmass – a massive dataset, documenting immense change. To bring this change to life, we recently released two new Planet Explorer tools: Timelapse and Compare.

With the introduction of these features, anyone can easily tell stories of change by creating time series’ or side-by-side comparisons of Planet imagery, easily shareable online.

To get your feet wet, new Planet Explorer users will get access to global, full-resolution PlanetScope and RapidEye imagery for a two-week trial to browse, compare, and share stories of change from anywhere on Earth.

You can see these tools in action at our blog here, and sign up for your free trial at planet.com/stories.

Cheers,
The Planet Team

 

 

RCRC: Rural Broadband Update

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking this week that will prohibit state and local governments from using Universal Service Fund (USF) dollars for equipment and services from providers identified as a national security risk. The order is targeting China-backed firms ZTE and Huawei who provide telecommunications equipment to U.S. service providers.

The impact of the order will be felt by local and rural service providers who rely on cheap Chinese equipment for high-cost broadband deployment projects in rural areas. The FCC argues it is protecting America’s supply chain and communications work from foreign interference but the USF is the agency’s primary arm for rural broadband funding and the order will have a chilling effect on private investment in rural broadband.

Source: RCRC Barbed Wire Newsletter

The ARRA Broadband proposal had a buy American requirement, that had to be rescinded as key networking components were no longer manufactured in the US. The issue is more than protecting the Amerian supply chain, there is a national security aspect.  There is a suspicion that China chip manufacturers have an embed code that they can turn on to monitor the traffic flowing over the router connections.  There is a lot which goes on in the black world that is often pasted over with less revealing explanations, like trade protection.

5G Fees and Approval Time Under Review at FCC

Carr Teases Next Steps On Infrastructure – Fresh off his work on regulatory reviews for small cell installations, Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said Thursday he’s turning his attention to state and local reviews for the 5G equipment. In a speech at CTIA’s Race to 5G Summit, Carr hit on the biggest complaints from wireless carriers as they seek to deploy the small wireless antennas – the fees, and the time it takes for approvals. “There is no question that states and localities expect and deserve to be compensated for the reasonable costs they incur in managing rights-of-way and access to public infrastructure,” Carr said. “But that does not mean we should view each deployment as a revenue generating opportunity.”

Carr signaled that shot clocks for approvals will be up for review, as will access to rights-of-way. But he was coy on timing, saying only he will share “more specific thoughts in the coming weeks.”

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

Wired: FCC Delays Are Keeping Broadband From Rural School Kids

Across the country, red tape has blocked 750,000 students from access to high speed internet, according to EducationSuperHighway. In Montana alone, 45,000 students live with limited connectivity. “I visited Woodman School and know that the need is there,” said Governor Bullock in a statement to WIRED. “Red tape stands in the way of closing the gap for more than 45,000 Montana students who are still without access to the high-speed internet they need to take advantage of digital learning.”

The full article is HERE.

 

Houston, We Have a Broadband Problem

In real life, the quote was “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” phrase used by Jack Swigert to report an explosion in one of the Apollo 13 oxygen tanks during a flight to the Moon. The crew was forced into survival mode as the team orbited the Moon and returned to the Earth.

It became well-used phrase at our house to announce a problem to be resolved by the family. These problems were often introduced with a single sentence “Huston we have a problem.” thus grabbing everyone’s attention.

As I was watching Mark Zuckerberg sitting a Senate hot seat questioned by Senators who know little about the nuances of technology, and how the internet works. Political creatures who were threatening to regulate something they do not understand. As I watch the questioning, it became clear that many of our elected officials have little understanding of broadband technology and it’s economic and social impact. “Huston we have a problem.” was ricochet through my mind.

It was more than a failure to understand social media and the monetization of its users, which they made clear by the fluff ball questions and their hesitation as they stumbled over the notes provided by staffers. It was a failure to understand the that the internet, machine learning, the cloud and connected technology where are potent tools. That is powerful tools for those who have access to high-speed broadband.

My Huston problem was that large segments of rural populations do not have access to these culture and economy bending tools.This lack of access is the failure of Zuckerberg questioners to understand that broadband access has become an essential element of modern life. To be denied access is to cripple large segment of our rural populations.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel recognized the knowledge problem and is arguing for the reestablishment of the Office of Technology Assessment in Congress after Facebook hearings last week highlighted lawmakers’ knowledge gaps on tech issues. The OTA was established in 1972 to help lawmakers deal with technological developments. It was closed in 1995.

“We need real #technology experts in Washington…. It’s time for [OTA] to return,’ Rosenworcel wrote in a tweet. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) also offered his backing for a move like this.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

We are not going to solve the broadband problem until our political leaders understand the technology and the how it will shape the future of our social structure.

Sen. Tina Smith’s Broadband Play

Ever since Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) assumed her seat at the start of 2018, she talked up her goals for expanding broadband access, and on Thursday she unveiled legislation to help codify and tweak Agriculture Department grants aimed at spurring internet connectivity. Her bill would authorize the Community Connect grant program at $50 million annually.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

Obama Broadband Stimulus and Rural Broadband

Senator Ted Cruz quoted in POLITICO Morning Tech newsletter.

“. . . he [Cruz] viewed as wasted money from the billions of dollars spent on broadband stimulus under the Obama administration: “A lot of that money ended up nowhere near rural broadband.”

When the ARRA Stimulus Broadband Request for Proposals was issued, I was consulting with SEDCorp. SEDCorp held a series of meeting for all the ISPs in their four-county service area, Sierra, Nevada, Placer and El Dorado County. The purpose of the meetings was to encourage the ISPs to prepare and submit ARRA Broadband Proposals. Nine of the thirteen ISPs in the service area attended the planning meeting. Only one, Smarter Broadband filed and won a $2.3 million proposal.

I worked with the all the ISPs that were interested in submitting a proposal, especially to create their coverage maps, which had to be provided as ArcGIS shapefiles. Once the 3/4 inch thick RFP was issued most of the ISPs rejected it outright, they did not have sufficient staff to complete the engineering requirements in the proposal, nor the accountants and legal team to complete the financial audit, human resources and environmental certifications required by the RFP. Also, there was a “Buy American” clause, later removed when it was evident that some key network components were not manufactured the US, they are all produced abroad.

Bottom line is the rural broadband providers that could have used the ARRA broadband stimulus money the most effectively, could not get access to the funds due to the high administration barriers. Those barriers could have been unintended, with the bureaucrats trying to cover all the bases and to ensure equity in the distribution of funds. Or, as one insightful observer commented, it was intentional after being badgered by telco’s through their lobbying firms to make the proposals as complicated as possible, yet not a challenge to their engineering, accounting, and legal staffs.

How did Smarter Broadband overcome the administrative barriers? They were helped by a vendor who provided the needed staffing assistance. As one wag observed, the vendor wrote the proposal and Smarter Broadband signed it. I suspect it was a joint effort. It turns out writing up the project was the easy part, the funding came with some time constraints. The money had to be spent by specific dates, after all, it was stimulus money. And, that almost ended the program when the CEQA process consumed a significant portion of the allotted time.

Recognizing that any future broad funding could also include the same administrative obstacles, I wrote emails to Congressman McClintock and La Malfa Staff asking them to intercede with NTIA and explain the issues for small rural ISPs; they lack the staff to reply to a complicated proposal request. I received a positive response from La Malfa’s office, not so much from McClintock’s office. I continue to press the issue with the La Malfa staff. Now, that the money is going to be distributed by the Department of Agriculture, I am going ask they refocus their effort with USDA.