New Opportunities to Bring Last Mile Broadband to the Sierra

Kari Sinoff

Kari Sinoff

Gold Country Broadband Consortium
Project Manager

I have seen a tremendous amount of innovation, support, and capacity across all cities and counties as each one responds to the COVID pandemic and prioritizes broadband connectivity and affordability on behalf of their residents, businesses, and anchor institutions. There are several opportunities in 2021 to keep an eye on as we work together to bridge the digital divide. Here’s what’s going on at the county, regional, state, and federal levels. 

Nevada County Grant Opportunity

The first opportunity is the County of Nevada 2021 Last Mile Broadband Grant program. The focus of the program is to provide resources to new and existing Internet Service Providers (ISP) to invest in building broadband infrastructure that supports economic development, public safety, remote learning, telehealth services, and overall community prosperity in Nevada County.

The application period for the 2021 Last-Mile Broadband Grant is now open and closes on March 1, 2021, at 5:00 pm. The County of Nevada Board of Supervisors allocated $250,000 for this second round. Sierra Business Council will manage the grant application process on behalf of the County of Nevada.

We’re excited to partner with Nevada County on this and increase access to reliable broadband in the region. Interested ISP applicants can join us on Friday, February 5, 2021, from 1:00 – 2:00 pm for a virtual applicant’s conference. You’ll be able to submit questions regarding the requirements outlined in the Nevada County 2021 Last Mile Broadband Grant Application Guidelines and the Nevada County 2021 Last Mile Broadband Grant ApplicationEligible Projects must be located in unincorporated Nevada County

 To join the meeting, click the link below or call in to the phone number listed.

Join Zoom Meeting:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84032318096?pwd=MkltMzBQaGxLWVRFeUpZYndMU1hvZz09

Meeting ID: 840 3231 8096
Passcode: 874126
(669)900-6833 US

Other Nevada County Updates: 

Nevada County was also successful in utilizing $1,000,000 of CARE’s Act funding to install above ground fiber to 800 residents in the unincorporated area of Peardale just before the December holidays. Race Communications plans to invest an additional one million dollars into an alternate unincorporated area in 2021. Two other ISPs are utilizing a 2020 Nevada County Last Mile Broadband Grant to complete projects by June of 2021. The first is Nevada County Fiber, which is installing underground fiber connectivity to 16 homes in the Banner Mountain area, and has applied for a CASF grant to connect an additional 50 homes, with a goal to continue expansion as public-private funding becomes available and eventually owned and operated as an open-access, community-owned resource. The other Nevada County grant was awarded to Oasis Broadband (formerly Exwire), which is currently connecting up to 100 homes using WISP technology in the Truckee, Prosser Dam Road neighborhood. There are countless other emerging ISPs contributing innovative technology to provide long term and short term solutions to connect our rural neighborhoods, and there are many cellular providers offering affordable hot spots to support the emergency distance learning situation. 

While the effects of COVID are devastating, the community commitment to addressing the digital divide resulting from physical infrastructure barriers and affordability issues is astonishing. Our local Tahoe Truckee Unified School District IT Director, Ed Hilton, shared a few of his experiences with the school district, including personal trips with ISPs to neighborhoods to problem solve unique internet access issues. 

In addition, many counties and municipalities are pursuing improved broadband policy and incorporating affordable broadband connectivity into their economic development plans and adopting policies declaring broadband as essential infrastructure. In fact, the County of Nevada is working with CETF and other stakeholders to support a study of a County-wide Programmatic Environmental Impact Review process to remove CEQA barriers, expedite environmental permitting, and reduce onerous costs for last mile projects.

Regional News

The Gold Country Broadband Consortium is tracking the California Advanced Services Fund – Rural and Urban Regional Broadband (CASF) infrastructure grant applications, which were submitted May 4th, 2020. Several of these projects were approved and will move forward, while others are pending approval and may be partially funded, or rejected entirely, on March 31, 2021. It is unlikely all projects will be funded due to the diminishing CASF budget. If you would like to track the CASF infrastructure applications and approved projects in your county go to CASF Applications Project Summaries If there are pending applications in your area, reach out to the ISP applicant, or write letters of support to the CPUC.

California State Legislation 

Sierra Business Council has identified State Bills AB 14, SB 4, and SB 34 as important legislation to watch and largely support.

  • AB 14: “Internet for All”: Authored by Assemblymember Aguilar-Curry with bi-partisan support. Prioritizes deployment of broadband infrastructure in California’s most vulnerable and unserved rural and urban communities by extending the ongoing collection of funds deposited into the CASF to provide communities with needed grants. Extends eligibility for grants administered by CPUC to local and tribal governments. Includes a detailed, measured approach to building a statewide fiber middle-mile network that will provide higher speeds and access to connectivity. 
  • SB 4: Authored by Senator Gonzalez – Similar to AB 14, would also authorize the ongoing collection of CASF surcharge, capping it at 23 cents per month per access line. Ensures CASF-funded projects deploy infrastructure capable of providing Higher broadband speeds than currently required, with a goal of achieving access speeds of 100 mbps. 
  • AB 34: Broadband for All Act – General obligation bond of up to $10 billion for November 2022 ballot to close the digital divide. No specific language or number tied to it yet, expected soon. Read more about AB 34 here.

 

Federal Legislation – “Building Better Broadband”

Focuses on deployment in rural America – $20 billion to expand rural broadband infrastructure, triple funding for Community Connect broadband grants to expand access, and reform the Lifeline program, which subsidizes internet and phone services for low-income Americans. Universal broadband is considered essential in additional initiatives including economic recovery, climate change, advancing economic equity, and embracing racial equity. 

SBC is also tracking the COVID Relief Package, which calls for 3.2 billion dollars in subsidies for low-income families for services and devices. This is currently still in rulemaking.  

What you can do: 

If you live in an area of unreliable internet access, please go onto the Sierra Business Council, Gold Country Broadband Consortium webpage and take the CPUC Broadband SPEED test. It is important to use the CPUC SPEED test because the results download directly to the CPUC. These results help the State identify unserved/underserved census tract areas to determine high priority funding areas and grant eligibility criteria.

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