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Spiral Internet’s high-speed fiber optic network still in limbo

As long ago as 2009, Spiral Internet CEO John Paul was touting broadband Internet service across Nevada County in the hopes of receiving federal funding.

Almost 10 years later, despite millions in state and private funding, the project remains more of a concept than reality, with questions about leadership changes and lack of progress.

Last May, Paul said the company’s ambitious high-speed fiber optic network project had jumped all its financial hurdles and would begin construction in the summer on the first stage — a 26-square-mile area that includes about 2,900 homes and 340 businesses around Highway 174 and Dog Bar Road — with the first homes online by fall.

Fall came and went, however.

In September, Paul told The Union that Spiral was ready to begin network design — the plans that will go to the county and city of Grass Valley in order to get permitting — and should be done with that phase within a few months.

When asked about the progress of the project last week, however, Paul said he was “hunkered down” with the network design.

Paul said the project continues to move forward, pointing to “key aspects” that include completing the extensive CEQA environmental report, which led to a CPUC-approved negative declaration in June.

“Among our current undertakings is completing the network design, then permitting with Nevada County and Caltrans,” he said.

More funding requests pending

In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1665, known as Internet for All, allocating $330 million to expand broadband internet infrastructure into rural communities. The fund provides grants for rural broadband projects and is the source of Spiral’s $16.2 million grant — what Paul has called its first phase of funding.

The law took effect Jan. 1 with new criteria for implementation, Paul said, adding that Spiral is waiting for final guidelines to be approved.

“We will then begin writing additional grant applications for western Nevada County,” he said.

Paul said the project has not tapped into any of the nearly $17 million in state funds that was granted in late 2015.

“Grant project expenses are billed to the California Public Utilities Commission when we complete project segments,” he said. “Spiral has neither billed nor received monies from the grant or other funding sources, but expects to do so as we prepare for ground breaking this year.”

Departure of company’s CTO

Chief Technical Officer Michael P. Anderson recently issued a written statement that he had “ceased any association with Bright Fiber, including in any volunteer capacity,” as of Dec. 6.

The statement said Anderson, along with Andrew Wilkinson and others he would not name, had been working in a volunteer capacity for Bright Fiber Inc., doing business as Spiral Internet. He stressed that they were not involved in Spiral’s DSL business and were never employees or board members. Anderson said he began volunteering on the broadband project in April 2014 and helped put the project together, but declined to comment on the split beyond his prepared statement.

According to Paul, Anderson took on the role of CTO after the death of Paul’s former partner, Chip Carman.

“I knew Spiral needed someone to fill his technical position,” Paul said. “I asked Michael Anderson if he would take on the role of CTO after the project broke ground.”

According to Paul, Anderson went to numerous trade show conferences across the country over the past four years to get up to speed on the fiber optic industry.

“Recently, he decided to no longer be affiliated with the project,” Paul said. “We will be moving forward with another person to fill those job requirements.”

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

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