Another broadband update


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Ask anyone who's tried to bring redundant and last-mile broadband service to Humboldt County -- the major stumbling block has not been shortcomings in technology or consumer demand; it's been financing. How do you develop a feasible funding model? That is, how can the project be made profitable? With help from the gub'ment, that's how.

Until recently, the state and local governments have taken a dripple-down approach to broadband stimuli. But lately, looking to nourish to the country's adolescent high-speed infrastructure, both President Obama and the California Public Utilites Commission have exposed curiously bloated public teats to the high-speed Internet sector, leaving companies like Broadband Associates, Inc. to fight for nipple access.

As mentioned in this space yesterday, BA, Inc., a Sacramento-area tech company that builds fiber-optic networks for schools and government agencies, last week received CPUC approval for $7.8 million -- 40 percent of the company's price tag for providing a high-speed safety (Inter)net for the North Coast, plus broadband access to at least 16 rural communities along Highway 299. More on the plan here.

Today in a phone interview, BA founder and CEO Michael Brinskele said that while the CPUC funding (which comes from a temporary pile of money called the California Advance Services Fund) is indeed good news, the project is by no means a done deal. For one thing, BA still hasn't lined up the other $11.7 million necessary for completion. Earlier this month, Brinskele said the company was close to that mark. "We're still close," he said this morning, "but we haven't gotten all the way."

Then there's the environmental impact studies required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). "We're not even allowed to pick up a shovel until CEQA is done," Brinskele said. By partnering with Weaverville-based Velocity Technology, BA is hoping to build 16 or more wireless towers which would provide broadband access to such communities as Salyer, Burnt Ranch and Junction City. Also, they'd bury a fiber-optic line along Highway 299 utilizing Caltrans rights-of-way.

Brinskele said he doesn't know how long the environmental impact studies will take, but he's still hoping to begin construction this summer and finish by the first fiscal quarter of 2010. He's also hoping for more government money. "We believe part or all of [this project] qualifies for Obama's rural broadband stimulus allocation," Brinskele said. "We're in weekly discussions with the Department of Agriculture, finding out the rules and how to apply for the money at this stage."



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