San Rafael, CA – Telecommunications experts in Marin County are celebrating a milestone achievement in broadband service: The first state grant for a fiber-to-the-home broadband network in Marin. The residents of Nicasio, an unincorporated rural village in west-central Marin that has a frustrating history with web connections, will be the beneficiaries and should be eligible to register for the service by the end of 2017.
Because of its remote location, Nicasio has been in need of reliable internet service along with many other West Marin communities.
On July 14, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) awarded a $1.491 million grant to Inyo Networks, Inc., of Vallejo, which will develop a fiber optic network in conjunction with the Nicasio Landowners Association. Inyo and the association plan to raise an additional $994,000 for a total network construction cost of $2,485,130. There will be no up-front installation costs for future service recipients, but internet connections for the new Nicasio Gigabit Network are expected to cost $89 per month, according to the CPUC.
“This is the important first step in bringing true digital equity to rural West Marin,” said Steve Kinsey, the County’s District 4 Supervisor representing West Marin. “We have a plan to aggressively move ahead to find financing and continued local support for other broadband underserved and unserved communities along the coast. With Nicasio now underway, we can move ahead.”
Nicasio, primarily a farming and ranching community, is about 15 miles northwest of downtown San Rafael and has about 250 residences spread out over a wide area. Nicasio School, the Nicasio Fire Department, a church, a Druids hall and other small businesses will have opportunities to benefit from the new broadband service as well.
Fiber connectivity linking the new network to the outside world will be provided by carrier Zayo Group of Boulder, Colo., which installed optical fiber to Skywalker and Big Rock ranches in Lucas Valley for the digital production needs of Lucasfilm in 2014. Once the matching funding is secured and environmental clearances are achieved, construction workers will extend the fiber optic cables from the Lucasfilm facilities out to Nicasio, a distance of about 3.5 miles.
Nicasio is largely unserved by broadband providers, and the ad hoc Marin Broadband Task Force recognized that there was little prospect that existing carriers will bring competitive, high-speed broadband to Nicasio for the foreseeable future. In 2013, task force consultant and noted network expert Peter Pratt recommended to Kinsey that the County join the CPUC’s broadband planning program to better position West Marin communities for state funding.
The landowners have worked with Inyo since May 2015 on the planning and development of the CPUC grant application, filed in November 2015. The two parties were brought together and supported in the effort by the task force, which includes representatives from the Marin County Administrator’s Office, the Marin County Department of Information Services and Technology, Supervisor Kinsey’s office, and other countywide agencies. The task force specializes in public funding programs for rural areas.
The CPUC authorized Marin to join the regional broadband consortium with Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties in July 2014. Before then, the task force registered seven West Marin communities – Bolinas, Dillon Beach, Inverness, Nicasio, Point Reyes Station, Muir Beach, and Stinson Beach – for priority funding by the state for broadband investment. Now that the CPUC’s first Marin grant is issued, the County is lobbying for continuation of the program to support the remaining West Marin communities standing in line for state network subsidies.