CPUC approves $450,000 3-year grant to jump-start Central Coast broadband

Santa Cruz Sentinel

SAN FRANCISCO — The California Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to provide the Central Coast Broadband Consortium with a three-year, $450,000 grant to help the region lay the groundwork for a countywide broadband infrastructure.

The formal, unanimous vote was expected but still drew enthusiastic responses from members of the local consortium who failed last year to secure federal stimulus funding.

The CPUC, which approved some California Advanced Services Fund Rural and Urban Broadband Consortia grants in the summer, approved one-year grants totaling nearly $1.67 million to seven more groups. If those groups meet annual requirements, they will almost all earn equal amounts for two more years, for a three-year total of more than $5 million.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Watsonville’s Finance Director Marc Pimental. “We’ve got so much of the groundwork laid. We’ve just been waiting for something like this to bring it forward.”

The grant will provide the 10-year-old consortium with the maximum available under the program — $150,000 annually for three years. Watsonville will coordinate funds for consortium stakeholders.

Work on the project is expected to begin in January. It will be used to identify where broadband conduits already exist, develop policies that support broadband such as infrastructure trenching, conduit management and wireless sites and reach out to low-income and underserved communities. The focus of the grant is to discover where all the parties can cooperate, share costs to get the job done, members said.

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium includes representatives from public and private industry throughout Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties. Some members have been planning more than 10 years for regional broadband access. The group has faced stiff competition from other rural communities looking to catch up technologically.

Santa Cruz voted in the fall to develop a Broadband Master Plan that will be integrated into its capital improvement plan.

“We recognize that it’s more than a necessity, it’s a utility at this point,” said Peter Koht, economic development coordinator for Santa Cruz. “We targeted it towards making sure industrial and commercial zone areas are the highest priority.”

Just how that will unfold locally and regionally, however, is not clear. The plan involves inventorying existing conduits and where it is possible to place more.

“It’s a big strategic initiative to have this resource hard-wired into streets and business districts,” Koht said. “It’s really important that broadband gets its own reserve location in the public right-of-way so it can be easily maintained and accessed.”

The consortium is one of 15 groups to apply in August for grants from the CPU California Advanced Services Fund – Rural and Regional Urban Consortia Account. The $10 million fund is earmarked for regional groups developing plans and policies that support broadband and increase adoption. Money cannot be used for capital costs. Some consortia received approval earlier this year.

Other grantees approved Thursday were: East Bay Broadband Consortium, Los Angeles County Regional Broadband Consortium, Northeastern California Connect Consortium, Redwood Coast Connect, San Joaquin Valley Regional Broadband Consortium and Upstate California Connect Consortium. Applicants included 49 of 58 counties in the state. Seven more requests are in the pipeline.

This article appears here.

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