Coffee to the Home

Every once in a while in this long process to bring gigabit fiber optic connectivity to Nevada County, we need to laugh. Google keeps upping the ante. Maybe Spiral will too … the future is clearly “coffee to the home”.

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The Long Road to Building a Gigabit Fiber Optic Network

On February 1, 2013, Spiral Internet submitted a California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grant application to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to build a phase one $27.5M gigabit fiber to the home (FTTH) project. We titled it the Nevada County Connected Project. Yes, just like what Google Fiber is doing in Kansas City, Austin, Provo and now multiple other urban areas. For this project, 60% of the funding would come from CASF, and the remaining matching amount raised by private investment.

In order to determine the best way to start, we hired a Maryland-based firm in early 2012 that ran us (and western Nevada County) through a rather vigorous feasibility study. In the end they identified, and we agreed, that we would start in a 26 square mile area in the southeastern part of the county. It is a “u” shaped area that starts at Whispering Pines / Crown Point Circle / Loma Rica Road in the north; down Brunswick Rd / Hwy 174 to the Placer County border on its eastern side; and on the western side down La Barr Meadows Road / Dog Bar Road (to the east of Alta Sierra) ending in the Lodestar area. The project will provide ultra high speed Internet access to 3,400 households and 400 business; each with a 100% fiber optic connection to symmetrical gigabit speeds.

Out the door, we were told by the CPUC staff that we submitted the best grant application they had seen. We were thrilled about that. As each submitted grant application allows the incumbent providers to challenge it, we were also told that we were one of the most challenged projects. There was a deep group sigh about that, but we were undaunted.

Refuting those assertions required vigorous testing of cellular signals (driving every road and showing that one could barely make a 3G telephone call in the area) and hundreds of calls to cable company customer support (to show their real borders). Late last summer, we effectively pushed away the challenges from Comcast, Suddenlink and Verizon Wireless.

The only other incumbents who could potentially challenge the project were the existing fixed wireless providers. These wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) broadcast Internet access from local hilltops or, sometimes, existing towers. Out the door, DigitalPath supported the Spiral project knowing that ubiquitous fixed wireless Internet service is incredibly difficult to provide in the area due to high forestation and geographic diversity (i.e. hills and canyons). Unfortunately, SmarterBroadband chose to challenge the project full on.

Now, you may — or may not — know that SmarterBroadband received an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act $1.87M grant / $600k loan in September 2010. That project is described as follows on the ARRA website:

The SmarterBroadband Project by SmarterBroadband, Inc. of Grass Valley, California, in Nevada County, will bring high quality fixed wireless service to one of the more geographically challenging areas in California. The SmarterBroadband Project covers 435 square miles of rural, mountainous, and wooded territory and will deliver speeds up to 6 Mbps and more to residents, businesses and critical community facilities in this largely underserved area. Wireless Access Points for customer connections will enable 6Mbps plus to the end user. Licensed backhauls will form a high speed carrier grade ring between major sites to ensure maximum uptime. Two independent Internet Backbone connections will provide internet connectivity redundancy.

The SmarterBroadband Project is required to be completed by September 2015. It is now almost 3 1/2 years along, with 18 months to go. Upon completion — according to the ARRA funding guidelines — the project is required to be able to connect the 25,000 “underserved” households (data provided by Nevada County GIS team) within the 435 square mile project area with 6Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream speeds. You can see the project’s progress on the Recovery.gov website, by clicking here.

Clearly that would be wonderful for western Nevada County, if it was even remotely attainable. Currently, SmarterBroadband provides service to only 6% of those potential customers. (This calculation is based on SmarterBroadband owner Adam Brodel’s statement in the March 6, 2014 issue of The Union that “we have 1,500 customers.”) Now remember, not all of those customers have access to the required “line-of-sight” needed for that fastest access; often relegated to much slower 1 Mbps or even 768 kbps or 512 kbps downstream  and 256 kbps upstream speeds (as posted on the SmarterBroadband website).

There is no question that it is a daunting task to provide 6 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream fixed wireless Internet service to 25,000 households in western Nevada County terrain with a $2.4M budget. The real concern is will ARRA find itself with a failed project come September 2015.

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Chip Carman’s Vision Moves Forward

Spiral Internet’s co-owner and CIO (Chief Imagination Officer, as he preferred), Chip Carman, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in May of this year. After a short battle, he succumbed to the aggressive disease on October 31. Chip was the Spiral team member who proclaimed “Yes, let’s build a 100% fiber optic network here.” He will be sorely missed by Spiral and our community for his vision, intelligence and uncanny ability to “see the future”. His obituary appears below.

Earlier this year, Spiral assembled an incredible team of telecommunication and business experts that our community will be hearing more about as we move forward. We are over nine months into a very long grant application process with the California Public Utilities Commission that required us to refute incumbent provider challenges. We have accomplished that, in good part thanks to Chip.

Stay tuned over the next weeks as we update you on the challenges we faced in being funded, and the future of our 100% fiber optic Internet network in western Nevada County. Indeed, our future is bright.

John Paul, CEO, Spiral Internet

…………………………………………

Chip Carman
December 29, 1948 – October 31, 2013

On the afternoon of Oct. 31, 2013, our community lost Chip Carman after a short six-month battle with esophageal cancer. He was 64.

A celebration of life will be held at Hooper & Weaver Mortuary in Nevada City Saturday, Nov. 16, at 11am followed by a reception.

Chip was born in Galena Park, Texas on December 29, 1948 — his home being in Jacinto City, Texas — but moved to California with his family before he was five years old.

As the founder and manager of the product-testing labs at both “MacUser” and “Macworld” magazines, he brought his unique and thorough analysis to a then-nascent industry. He spearheaded the installation of the first high-speed Intranet connection between the San Francisco and Tokyo “Macworld” offices.

Of note was his position as the webmaster for “Macworld’s” first website development team: a tiny group sequestered in a small room trying to figure out how to use this new way of communication in a then-print-only world. He also traveled around the world offering technical support to the company’s international publications.

Chip continued working with “Macworld” after he moved to Nevada County with John Paul in 1997. Together since 1992, they were married in 2008. John and he partnered to form Spiral Studios, a website development business, which became Spiral Internet after the acquisition of Nevada County Community Network customers in 2006.

As a member of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council’s Telecommunications Committee, he wanted to help bring faster Internet access here. Upon realizing that the telephone company was not going to deliver, it was his notion that Spiral Internet build its own fiber optic network. Chip’s goal was to be around to see that network built, but in the end, he was satisfied knowing that the grant application process with the California Public Utilities Commission had moved past its challenges and was headed toward funding.

After participating in an early Nevada County Community Leadership Institute class, he used his skills to help an alumni organization form. He penned an ongoing technology column (Biz-Tek) for Nevada County Business News in which he offered his unique views in a down-to-earth style. The last column he wrote will appear in the next issue.

On the home front, Chip was a beekeeper for many years, delighted that his avid early interest in biology and botany could be realized in such a sweet way. Although he would never admit it, he was a culinary wizard in the kitchen as anyone can attest who joined Chip and John at their home for one of his dinners. Flavor, color and vibrant ingredients were his potions. As an intrepid geek, he was never without the latest gadget; his iPad always in his hands.

Chip is survived by his husband, John Paul; father Joe Carman; brother, John Carman and sister-in-law Stacey Carman; nephew Jason Carman and step-brothers Matt, Greg and Eric Prochnow. Chip is preceded in death by his mother, Wanda Jean Camden (Kitcher); step-dad Jim Camden and his “wicked” step-mom, Mary Jean Carman.

He will be missed by many for his uncanny ability to envision technology’s big picture and see how it could be used to benefit our community. He will be missed and remembered by his family for his intelligence, creativity, and loving spirit.

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