Image of a broadband tower in Northern California via Cal.net Facebook.
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
Cal.net has a daunting task ahead and it can be summed up in three figures.
In January, the Federal Communications Commission gave the communications company from the Sacramento area 72 months and $54 million to provide high-speed broadband service to unserved and underserved rural areas in around 30 counties in the San Joaquin Valley — going from Shasta to Kern. It’s Phase 2 of the Connect America Fund (CAF) project, and Cal.net is the only company in the region participating in the task.
According to Mark Herr, vice president of corporate development for Cal.net, their targets will not be towns, but unserved census bloc groups where broadband services are minimal to nonexistent. These blocs, which are scattered across the FCC map, vary in size, sometimes being no more than four homes. Major services providers were initially approached by the FCC, but found that involvement would be impractical due to the sparsely disbursed areas targeted.
“If you look at the State of California with their colored maps, it looks like California has the measles,” Herr said. “They’re not continuous anywhere in the state, and that explains why the big carriers didn’t want them — because that’s not the prime stuff — and they’re a wired carrier and we’re wireless.”
However, Herr added that the $54 million they received from the FCC is still not enough for the San Joaquin Valley project to be profitable. They need not only a federal investment, but also customers in the areas being served. The good news is that the staff at Cal.net seems confident about this possibility. Throughout the scattered blocs, Herr explained there are plenty of rural areas where the connection exists, but the wire services are weak and inadequate, especially for schools using features like Zoom. By positioning themselves just right, they can not only meet their obligations, but also gain new customers.
“What’s good is we’ll build something and within a two or three-mile radius, we could hit every home in the area including the census bloc group we’re required to hit,” Herr said. “So we can hit underserved areas at the same time that we’re serving the required census block groups for CAF.”
But there is one major obstacle standing in the way for Cal.net — permits.
Herr says there’s been the occasional struggle to convince towns to allow building to go on in some areas. Covid-19 has made this more complicated with nobody working, or working remotely. There’s also competition to take priority over other projects like housing. Cal.net has worked to with Gov. Newsom’s office and entities like the Fresno County Office of Education to get across the importance of their projects in the community and to streamline the permitting process.
Nonetheless, Cal.net plans to hit the 20% completion mark by next June.