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FCC funds satellite broadband in Nevada County

This FCC map shows which areas Viasat will serve in white. Red and blue areas signify coverage by other broadband service providers.

Click here to find out if Viasat will service your area

The FCC is giving Viasat more than $400,000 to bring high-speed satellite internet to Nevada County customers.

The funding is part of the Federal Communications Commission‘s Connect America Fund, whose second phase granted $14 million to California internet service providers to connect rural areas with high-speed internet. Viasat was the only satellite-based internet service provider to win funding and will receive $429,669 to service just over 1,000 customers in the county over 10 years.

According to Nevada County’s broadband strategy, low population density and rugged topography make providing broadband internet a challenge, compelling the county to rely on a patchwork approach that pulls from many different resources and brings together varied solutions throughout the county.

“All together, these challenges create a patchwork of coverage and non-coverage areas across our county,” according to the county broadband website. “It is common to find a home that has wireless or wired service, yet the next door neighbor cannot be served due to one of these challenges.”

The Viasat project is unrelated to Race Communications’ plan to bring high-speed internet to almost 2,000 homes along Highway 174. Race has said it would use existing, above ground utility poles to install its fiber optic lines. In January officials said they’d targeted May 2020 as that project’s completion date.

While satellite internet can offer high-speed access to areas where traditional internet services can be spotty or hard to come by altogether, its traditional costs and data caps can make it a turnoff for some customers. One drawback to satellite internet is the latency, the time it takes to communicate with a satellite more than 20,000 miles away and receive a response, which can be 12 times longer than terrestrial based internet. While Viasat already services some areas of Nevada County, the grant funding would allow it to lower costs and remove some data caps.

“In return for this funding, Viasat will be providing service in the supported areas at lower cost to consumers, while also permitting higher usage allowances, than it typically provides in areas where it is not receiving Connect America Fund support,” an FCC press release stated.


Currently Viasat only offers download speeds up to 12 megabytes per second, but the funding will require the company to offer 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload speeds as part of the grant, providing baseline speeds and high latency.

The grant also requires Viasat to offer the services to 40% of covered customers within the first three years of funding and roll out most increases by 20% each subsequent year until build out is complete.

In the county’s broadband plan, satellite internet is an afterthought, finding the Connect America Fund as unreliable and instead urging the county to bank on local partnerships rather than federal funding as a steadier way forward.

“Ideally, the goal of 100% served in Nevada County would be supported by the state’s (California Advanced Services Fund) and the federal (Connect America Fund) funding opportunities,” the plan stated. “However, the reality is that incumbent telecom providers who have little incentive to connect low-density rural communities dominate these programs. The experience with both programs has been one of delayed project timelines, litigation and frustration.”

According to Gold Country Broadband Consortium program manager Chelsea Waltersheid, all approaches to providing broadband are needed and welcomed in Nevada County’s patchwork approach.

“It’s exciting to read a headline that money is going to come to our county, that’s huge and I don’t want to downplay that,” Waltersheid said. “There’s just so many other factors in there that we need to keep track of. Where that money is going, how they prioritize it, a lot of it remains to be seen.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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