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California Directs $45M in Grants to Central Coast Internet

The California Public Utilities Commission has awarded $45 million in grant funding to three regional Internet service providers, the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership announced recently.

A view of Franklin Street in downtown Monterey, Calif.
Shutterstock/Albert Pego
(TNS) — Moving to close the digital divide, the California Public Utilities Commission has awarded at total of $45 million in grant funding to three regional internet service providers, the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership announced recently.

More than half of the nearly $73 million in the statewide pool from the California Advanced Services Fund Broadband Infrastructure Grant Account was awarded to the Central Coast region, according to MBEP, with the funding going to enhancing broadband infrastructure, addressing critical issues in the digital divide in unserved and underserved rural and low-income communities.

The Monterey Bay Economic Partnership serves as the Executive Director of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and credits its collaborative efforts with the CPUC’s move.

The CPUC recently awarded Cruzio Media, Inc. up to $5.65 million to expand middle-mile broadband infrastructure to 759 unserved locations in Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in rural areas frequently at risk of natural disasters, according to MBEP. Using state-of-the-art fixed wireless hardware, Cruzio will rapidly deploy gigabit broadband to thousands of locations in this under-served region. Its Equal Access Summits to the Sea (EAS2C) Project middle-mile infrastructure is “open access,” meaning other ISPs can hop on board to offer speedier, more reliable services to residents across the Central Coast.

“Our region has a problem,” James Hackett, Cruzio COO, explained in a press release. “We’ve got rural communities, farmers, low-income communities, then just a hop away we’ve got Silicon Valley, high-tech and bustling. With the Summits to the Sea project we’re working to level the playing field and give everyone a fair shot.”

Monterey County Board of Supervisors District 1 Representative Luis Alejo recently wrote in a Monterey Herald Guest Commentary that “with the state facing a record $44.9 billion state budget deficit this year, California lawmakers must not backtrack on that full commitment by slashing the $2 billion in needed broadband funding to complete the work.”

In 2021, Senate Bill 126 allocated $6 billion to bring equitable and affordable high-speed broadband service to all Californians. The multi-year investment aimed to close the digital divide by building the largest “Middle Mile” and “Last Mile” high-speed broadband internet project in the nation.

But when the Governor’s revised budget was released in May, it included a total of $2 billion in reductions for broadband investment prompting Sup. Alejo’s commentary.

Last week Alejo posted on social media that the Governor and state leaders had reached a deal on the state budget and significant money had been restored for broadband middle-mile infrastructure.

The 2024 Budget Agreement says it “preserves $250 million for the Middle Mile Broadband Initiative in 2024-2025 and allows the Director of Finance to augment the budget for an additional $250 million with concurrence from the Legislature. Additionally, preserves $2 billion for Last Mile projects over the multiyear in order to connect unserved and underserved communities to broadband service.”

Surfnet Communications, Inc. has been awarded $10.08 million to deploy last-mile Fiber-to-the-Premises broadband service to 465 eligible locations across Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo and Santa Clara counties. Its Three County Fiber Project aims to provide high-speed, reliable, and affordable broadband service, particularly to economically and socially vulnerable communities.

The CPUC has approved $29.48 million in grant funding for LCB Communications LLC’s Aromas-San Juan Project deploying a hybrid broadband network combining Fiber-to-the-Home and Fixed Wireless Access to 1,101 unserved locations in San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. The project includes constructing middle- and last-mile infrastructure, addressing the digital divide and accessibility challenges in remote and rugged terrains.

Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, a regional member-supported nonprofit organization consisting of public, private and civic entities located throughout the counties of Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz, says it has championed digital equity in the Monterey Bay region, convening stakeholders and advocating for policies that address the digital divide since 2016. As the executive director of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, MBEP is committed to ensuring 100% broadband access in the Central Coast region through strategic initiatives and collaborative efforts.

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