Spiral Internet gets $16.7 million grant for gigabit fiber optic network in Nevada County | TheUnion.com

Spiral Internet gets $16.7 million grant for gigabit fiber optic network in Nevada County

The California Public Services Commission voted 4-to-1 on Thursday to award $16.7 million in funds to Spiral Internet for a fiber optic network in Nevada County.
Alan Riquelmy/ariquelmy@theunion.com |

Spiral Internet on Thursday secured $16.7 million in funds for a fiber optic network in Nevada County, setting the stage for high-speed Internet access to almost 2,000 homes.

The California Public Utilities Commission voted 4-to-1 to approve the $16.2 million grant and $500,000 loan for the project. The funds will provide 60 percent of the money needed for the project. The remaining funding will come from private investment.

“I’m relieved and excited,” said John Paul, CEO of Spiral Internet/Bright Fiber Network Inc. “I know what we’re going to be doing will change the economic development of Nevada County.”

The project’s ground-breaking is scheduled for late spring 2016. The first homes would receive service that fall, if construction proceeds unimpeded.

The money, provided through the California Advanced Services Fund, will help fund the first part of a three-phase plan that, once complete, will provide a fiber optic network across rural Nevada County.

The first phase includes areas along Highway 174 and Dog Bar Road in the southeastern part of the county.

Thursday’s vote came almost three years after Spiral Internet filed its grant application. CPUC staff recommended the board approve the money.

Chairman Michael Picker, the only dissenting vote, said he struggled with the decision. He feared the money would give an unfair advantage to Spiral Internet over competitors. Picker also disapproved of the new network providing redundancy to areas that already have a connection.

“I think it’s still a very speculative project,” Picker said.

Other commissioners expressed reservations about the project, but opted to approve it.

Commissioner Carla Peterman cited what she called the “unprecedented” level of local support. Commissioner Mike Florio said he’s opposed similar projects in the past. However, the support given to it by Nevada County residents tipped him into favoring the grant.

“There are customers who really want this and aren’t getting it now,” Florio said.

Commissioner Catherine Sandoval said the fiber optic network would provide a qualitatively different service from what currently exists in the area.

Corey Juchau, with ColfaxNet, spoke in opposition to the grant during the meeting. Afterward he praised Picker for his dissenting vote, saying the CPUC’s approval amounted to state sponsorship hurting competition.

“My main frustration is the state spending money on a network that’s really expensive,” Juchau said. “It’s taxpayer money. There’s less expensive ways to do it.”

CPUC staff estimates it would cost subscribers $119 a month to connect to the network.

Paul said users could eliminate their land-based phone lines and satellite TV services once connected. Cell phones don’t need a phone line and the fiber optic network would replace the need for satellite.

“In the end, the grant was really approved because of the incredible support from our community,” Paul said in a release. “Hundreds of emails and letters of support were sent to the commissioners over the last few weeks.”

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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