Spigot opens for fiber-optic web connections for rural Marin
San Rafael, CA – Marin County’s broadband connections to West Marin are growing. With some County of Marin technical assistance, residents of Nicasio are receiving home service via 100 percent fiber-optic connections and enjoying reliable internet service for the first time. And a similar project for Bolinas just received a significant funding boost in the form of a $1.89 million grant from the California Public Utilities Commission.
Web-starved customers in rural Nicasio (220 homes) flipped the switch on May 3 following a successful community fundraising effort. Nicasio School, the Nicasio Volunteer Fire Department, a church, a Druids hall and other small businesses now have trusted connectivity in addition to the farms and ranches.
The service boost bodes well for the Bolinas Gigabit Network (BGN) Project, which received the CPUC grant during a May 10 meeting in Fontana, Calif. BGN would provide gigabit fiber-optic service to more than 500 homes, businesses, nonprofits and public institutions. The grant awardee is Inyo Networks, a private carrier that created the Nicasio network and will oversee the Bolinas project. Inyo estimates that 80 percent of Bolinas customers will subscribe to fiber-to-the-home web service.
“There are all kinds of superlatives for Marin County that come out of this,” said Peter Pratt, a County-hired consultant working with the ad hoc Marin County Broadband Task Force and Inyo Networks. “Basically, West Marin is becoming a broadband leader for rural California communities. It’s a real victory, and we hope service recipients are pleased as punch.”
County leaders have worked toward establishing a broadband network in West Marin for many years. The Marin Broadband Task Force includes representatives from the Marin County Administrator’s Office, the Marin County Department of Information Services and Technology (IST), Marin County Department of Public Works, District 4 Supervisor Dennis Rodoni’s office, and other countywide agencies.
“The technical challenge of reaching the community with needed connectivity to the outside world had to be solved,” Rodoni said. “A year ago, we had to work with CPUC staff to make sure Bolinas remained identified as a high-priority community for funding. The community, the County, and our federal and state legislators issued multiple statements of support over the past several months. Today, we have success thanks to your contributions to all of those efforts.”
The costs of the Nicasio and Bolinas projects are to be covered by the CPUC grants, private investment, and the service recipients; the County is only contributing toward consulting costs. There are no up-front installation costs for most service recipients, but full gigabit connections for the new Nicasio network are costing about $89 per month.
Last summer, Nicasio residents raised more than the required minimum grant matching funding amount of $994,000 to secure almost $1.5 million in state grant funding for the broadband project. Rodoni credited the Nicasio Landowners Association for spearheading the effort. Nearly two-thirds of all property owners of the project’s core area participated in the prepayment program.
Construction workers tapped into unused fiber-optic cables installed in 2014 to serve the nearby Lucasfilm facilities off Lucas Valley Road. The total network cost for the Nicasio project was about $2.5 million, and the CPUC covered 60 percent of the capital costs.
The CPUC’s California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) issues grants to build broadband networks in rural communities. Like Nicasio, the Bolinas project was declared a “high-impact project” by CPUC staff. It approved the $1,868,881 grant partly because “greater broadband availability improves first-responders’ and citizens’ abilities to use real-time information to mitigate the risks posed to Bolinas by natural disasters such as wildfires, landslides, earthquakes, and floods,” according to a staff report. “This will also help residents access important telehealth and education services, which benefit public safety.”
The Marin County Broadband Task Force plans to lobby for continuation of the program to support the remaining West Marin communities standing in line for state network subsidies.
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