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Spiral Internet’s high-speed fiber optic network sees more delays

Nevada County residents hoping for reliable high-speed internet access will have to defer that dream a little bit longer.

Spiral Internet CEO John Paul admits it continues to be a moving target, but his company’s high-speed fiber optic network project — once projected to break ground this spring — now is likely to get underway next year.

Paul declined to provide a specific timeline for the network, which has been touted as providing an “instantaneous” gigabit internet connection, saying everything has taken longer than expected, including funding and the environmental review process.

“Nothing happens in a timely way, so I am reluctant to put any dates out,” he said. “Our hope is we can announce those (dates) soon.”

Loma Rica resident Ken Zuckerman signed up early to join the network and is a “champion” tasked with recruiting his neighbors.

“We’re very anxiously awaiting this service,” Zuckerman said. “It sounds like they’re getting there.”

A large part of his frustration is due to what he says is increasingly poor service from his current provider, AT&T.

“AT&T has stopped doing service in this area,” he said. “It’s been going straight downhill.”

The first stage of the project, a 26-square-mile area that includes about 2,900 homes and 340 businesses around Highway 174 and Dog Bar Road, would be complete two years after breaking ground, Paul has said.

“What’s (happening) right now is we finished, over this last year and some months, we completed our environmental report, which was pretty extensive,” he said. “In June, we were awarded a categorical exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act, which is a big deal. That means we don’t have to do a full-blown report.”

As Paul explains it, Spiral knows what critical areas of habitat it has to avoid, with only a few of those along the roads that will be used.

“Now we can begin network design, the plans that will go to the county and city of Grass Valley in order for us to get permitting,” he said. “We are going to give them exactly what they want, so it is taking longer.”

Paul estimated that those project plans should be done in a few months, saying, “We couldn’t start the design until we knew what the environmental process would be for building it.”

As soon as the plans are wrapped up, Spiral will be able to announce its schedule to break ground.

“We hope to start as soon as we get the go-ahead,” Paul said, adding that much will depend on the weather and how wet a winter Nevada County will face.

“We are a startup enterprise,” he said. “It would be different if we were continuing an existing network. … We’re building an infrastructure that will be around 50 to 100 years; it’s definitely been a learning curve for us.”

Until Spiral gets to the ground-breaking stage, Paul said, it is impossible to provide an accurate schedule.

“I can say that Crown Point Circle will be the first part we will build to,” he said.

One positive that Paul points to is the commitment from potential customers, after Spiral created the “Neighborhood Champions” program.

“That sign-up process has been fantastic,” he said. “In the first area, 20 percent of the households have signed up (approximately 580), which is amazing.”

Those customers all have put down a refundable $119 deposit to have service brought to their house; that deposit goes to pay for the first month of service, Paul said.

Paul said he wants to encourages people to go to Spiral’s website to express their interest and to keep track of the project’s progress at http://www.spiral.com/fiber.

“We will be applying for the funds for next two phases simultaneously, in January,” he said.

Paul has said he’d like all three service areas, which include some 12,000 homes, connected to the high-speed service within five years.

“The next part of the process will go much faster,” he said. “That first grant was delayed a while.”

Almost $17 million came from state funds granted in late 2015; Spiral this spring secured almost $12 million in private funding.

Spiral customer Tony Lauria said that while he is disappointed at the delay, he recognizes those hurdles have hampered progress.

“Certainly I would love to have good internet, which is not available to me right now,” he said. “But it is what it is. This is our best chance, and I really believe in John Paul’s integrity.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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