THE STORY, SO FAR: Long-awaited gigabit internet project in Nevada County takes new turn with new owner
July 2, 2018
Nevada City-based Spiral Internet is poised to secure a grant from the California Public Utilities Commission to build an underground fiberoptic network offering high-speed Internet access in Nevada County.
The grant, which Spiral will match with a required $13 million in private investor financing, will cover the costs of building the high-speed fiberoptic cable network in a 26-square-mile-swath from Colfax north up the Highway 174 corridor, servicing 2,900 households and 300 businesses.
"It will be 100 percent fiber (connection to the Internet)," said Spiral Internet CEO John Paul. "It will be like the speed you have when you turn on the TV and it's just there."
Financing is expected to be confirmed by the end of this year; construction is expected start next year and must be completed within two years. Spiral hosted a Spiral Gigabit Launch Event at the Miners Foundry, Oct. 30, 2014.
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"To be able to come to this point is very exciting," said Paul, who has been working on the issue of high-speed Internet access in Nevada County for more than a decade. "The bonus to economic development is that people will now be able to move to Nevada County and still be able to do their work — they don't need to be in the Bay Area."
A high-speed gigabit internet network for rural Nevada County hinges on a Dec. 3 vote of the California Public Utilities Commission.
The project depends on $16 million in grant funding from CPUC. If granted, as recommended by CPUC staff, Spiral Internet would build a network that covers a 21-square-mile imprint along Highway 174 and Dog Bar Road.
"It's a good project," said Steve Monaghan, director of Nevada County's Information and General Services Department. "It'll help in a lot of different areas."
Monaghan noted that increased high-speed Internet service is the top goal of the county's Economic Resource Council, which more than two years ago asked its members to name their priorities.
"It's job employment to economic development to entertainment to home security to health care to education for kids," Monaghan said. "It really touches all aspects of our lives."
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 first customers of a high-speed fiber optic network in Nevada County could be online by late spring, if the project remains on schedule.
Spiral Internet plans to begin construction in early 2017 on Zone A, the first of three stages of the gigabit internet connection. Some customers in the that first stage, a 26-square-mile area that includes spots along Highway 174 and Dog Bar Road, could be online months afterward, said John Paul, CEO of Spiral Internet.
"It'll be a game changer," Paul added.
Supporters of the gigabit network say it will bring a near-instantaneous connection to residents and businesses in Nevada County. It's a speed the Bay Area lacks, and people like Paul are hopeful it will help lure businesses here.
"Once the word gets out, businesses are going to look at our area as a place for satellite offices or R&D offices," Paul said.
Neighborhood champions" for the Spiral Internet project are vying to have the most people sign up for the high-speed service, a race to get their area connected first.
The project remains on schedule to have some of its first customers online around late spring, and everyone in its first construction zone connected within two years of breaking ground. The entire project, which includes three zones across rural Nevada County, is scheduled for completion in five years, said John Paul, CEO of Spiral Internet.
"We've got about 250 people signed up," Paul added.
The project's first zone, a 26-square-mile area that includes portions of Highway 174 and Dog Bar Road, has dozens of people working to get their neighbors registered for the gigabit internet connection. The area with the most registrations could be connected around that time.
A tally of the competing neighborhoods is available at http://www.spiral.com/fiber. At the website people can map their home to determine which, if any, project zone they're in.
Spiral Internet plans to begin construction this summer on the infrastructure for its gigabit, high-speed connection after clearing financial and bureaucratic hurdles. The Nevada County company this month secured an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act, which enables it to proceed to the design and permitting stages, said John Paul, co-founder and CEO of Spiral Internet.
Securing almost $12 million in private funding, done weeks ago, was the second hurdle the business jumped, Paul added. The remaining project costs, almost $17 million, come from state funds.
"All the obstacles that might have been in the way are gone," he said.
The hurdles Spiral has jumped are for the first of three project stages, he said. The first stage encompasses a 26-square-mile area that includes about 2,900 homes and 340 businesses around Highway 174 and Dog Bar Road.
"That's where we're going to start building," Paul told attendees at last week's summit of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council. "We're going to have the first gigabit community in California."
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."
Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law AB 1665, also known as Internet for All, allocating $330 million to expand broadband internet infrastructure into rural communities. Critics of the bill charged that it will make it impossible for independent projects to be funded. But John Paul, Spiral's CEO, said he wasn't worried. Spiral's funding for its first phase has already been awarded, $17 million granted in late 2015.
"That money is ours," Paul said.
The Internet for All bill collects more money to put into the California Advanced Services Fund, "so we can in fact apply for Phase 2 and 3, which we plan to do imminently," he said. "That money will be available Jan. 1."
Departure of Bright Fiber's chief technical, financial officers
Chief Technical Officer Michael P. Anderson 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 Chief Financial Officer 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.
Spiral Internet CEO John Paul says project progressing forward, after clearing California Environmental Quality Act hurdles and moving toward permitting. "Among our current undertakings is completing the network design, then permitting with Nevada County and Caltrans," he said.
Paul says Spiral was awaiting final guidelines after Jerry Brown's October signing of Internet for All bill, which allocated $330 million for rural broadband projects, and says it marks the first phase of funding for the $16.2 million grant for the Bright Fiber project.
"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 granted in late 2015.
A highly anticipated effort to bring high-speed fiber-optic internet service to the western Nevada County area — a $30 million project funded largely through grant money and private investments — may soon be in new hands.
Race Communications, a Bay Area company, has entered negotiations with Spiral Internet CEO John Paul to acquire Bright Fiber, an independent internet service provider in Nevada County that has been working on building a new fiber network in the region.
"Bright Fiber offers an exciting opportunity for Race Communications to strengthen and expand its footprint in California," Race Communications founder and CEO Raul Alcaraz said in a statement. "Our company has decades of experience in the telecom industry and we look forward to providing quality broadband and customer service to the residents in and around Nevada County."