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Race Communications to acquire Nevada County’s Bright Fiber and its fiber network project

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.

According to company officials, Race Communications and Bright Fiber have come to an agreement on the terms of the purchase, which are currently pending regulatory approval from the California Public Utilities Commission.

“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.” ­­­­

The acquisition of Bright Fiber stands to bring Race Communications an additional 2,000 internet subscribers and further establish themselves in Northern California. A spokesperson for Race Communications said they expect the acquisition to be completed by the end of July pending the regulatory approval.

Paul, co-founder and CEO of Bright Fiber, did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

In May 2017, Paul said the company’s 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.

In September, he 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 have be done with that phase within a few months. When asked about the progress of the project in February, however, Paul said he was “hunkered down” with the network design. He said the project continued 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 at the time.

Government, nonprofit officials party to negotiations

Nevada City Mayor Duane Strawser, who also serves on the Economic Resource Council, said that organization and the Sierra Business Council were brought into negotiations — along with county and city officials — in an attempt to save the project, which he said has hit a number of roadblocks in recent years.

Throughout the course of the project, Strawser said, several parties saw issues and offered options to help.

“Race (Communications) made an offer about a year ago that (Paul) declined, much to the surprise and disappointment of us all,” Strawser said.

According to Strawser, a second unnamed company came in for potential negotiations. Paul made a pitch, and they refused, which led Paul back to the table with Race Communications.

Terms of the acquisition have not been released. But at stake with the project is nearly $17 million in state grant funding. Spiral Internet, in December 2015, secured $16.7 million in funds for the fiber optic network, setting the stage for high-speed Internet access to almost 2,000 homes.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved the grant and $500,000 loan for the project. The funds were to provide 60 percent of the money needed for the project. The remaining funding was to come from private investment.

Paul told The Union in May of 2017 almost $12 million in private funding had been raised.

An unknown number of people have already placed deposits in good faith that once the broadband network was constructed, they would be automatically signed up to receive the gigabit service from Spiral Internet.

In February 2017, Paul said about 250 people had signed up at that point.

More about the involved businesses

Race Communications, founded in 1994, provides high-speed internet and communications in partnership with the California Public Utilities Commission and several nonprofit community advocacy groups, according to the company’s website. Race focuses its efforts towards building out fiber networks and offering gigabit internet to communities throughout California.

Spiral Internet became an internet service provider in May 2006 when the Nevada County Community Network Board of Directors asked Chip Carman and Paul to bring new services and energies to their customer base. Since its inception, Spiral, now known as Bright Fiber, has evolved its business and service offering in the rural broadband market.

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com or 530-477-4231.

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