San Rafael, CA – After a successful community fundraising effort in Nicasio, Marin County's first broadband network providing service to homes via 100 percent fiber-optic connections should start construction this summer and reliable internet service could be delivered to web-starved customers by the end of 2017.
Internet connections are notoriously poor in rural central and western Marin such as the village of Nicasio.
Residents in the rural community raised more than the required minimum grant matching funding amount of $994,000 to secure almost $1.5 million in state grant funding for the broadband project. The total network cost is expected to be about $2.5 million.
There will be no up-front installation costs for service recipients, but full gigabit connections for the new Nicasio Network are to cost about $89 per month, according to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
The County of Marin, which has eyed a broadband network in West Marin for many years, has been involved in the project through the ad hoc Marin Broadband Task Force. The task force includes representatives from the Marin County Administrator’s Office, the Marin County Department of Information Services and Technology (IST), Marin County Department of Public Works, District 4 Supervisor Dennis Rodoni’s office, and other countywide agencies.
“We’ve been keeping an oversight role over this effort, but it’s largely been a community-led campaign with assistance from our elected representatives,” said Tim Flanagan, assistant director of Marin County IST and the task force’s leader.
Nicasio, primarily a farming and ranching community, is about 13 miles northwest of downtown San Rafael and has about 220 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.
"The enthusiasm and civic spirit shown by the residents of Nicasio in reaching this very positive stage is a significant step forward for not only Nicasio but for the digital future of all of West Marin," said Rodoni, who represents West Marin. "As I tackle the challenges of bringing broadband to all of our communities in West Marin, I cannot thank the Nicasio Landowners Association enough for the incredible job they have done."
Once environmental clearances are achieved, construction workers will connect into unused fiber-optic cables installed in 2014 to serve the Lucasfilm facilities in the Nicasio area.
State funding for the breakthrough project comes from the CPUC’s California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which issues grants to build broadband networks in rural communities. Because unincorporated Nicasio area was documented as an “underserved” area, the CPUC awarded a grant in July 2016 to Rancho Cucamonga-based Inyo Networks to cover 60 percent of the capital cost of bringing the fiber to the home.
Inyo, with active participation of the Nicasio Landowners Association, pioneered an innovative subscriber prepayment financial instrument. The association members collaborated with Inyo to connect with the roughly 220 properties, spread over more than 20 square miles. Demonstrating the importance of the project, nearly two-thirds of all property owners of the project’s core area participated in the prepayment program.
"Broadband is no longer a luxury,” said Eric Blantz, co-chair of the Landowners' broadband subcommittee. “The incumbent providers were not interested in Nicasio, so we had to find our own solution. Fortunately, Inyo was willing to work with us to design a network and a business model that will make Nicasio the best-connected small town in Marin.”
The task force plans to lobby for continuation of the program to support the remaining West Marin communities standing in line for state network subsidies. “One this is installed, Nicasio offers to be the digital gateway for an expanded direct services network serving homes and businesses in much of the rest of West Marin,” Rodoni said.