Nicasio's fiber optic network goes live

12/06/2018

For years, when Eric Blantz tried to work out of his home in Nicasio, his Skype calls with clients in Africa would routinely drop. “It was because I had no service, not them,” said Mr. Blantz, who at the time worked for a company that delivers computing and broadband assistance to South Asia and Africa. “I’ve seen communities in the developing world with vastly better connectivity that we had here.” Now, 80 customers—including a handful of low-income residents—in Nicasio have broadband service. The county expects that number to double by early spring. In 2015, Nicasio landowners began to work with Marin County to find a carrier that could obtain grant funding through the California Public Utilities Commission to install broadband connections for residents. The commission recommended Inyo Networks, a telecommunications company headquartered in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. In 2016, Inyo was granted roughly $1.5 million: 60 percent of the total cost of the project. As a requirement of the grant, Nicasio landowners had to raise the other 40 percent. Mr. Blantz, who co-chairs the broadband subcommittee of the Nicasio Landowners Association, said that over 50 percent of landowners contributed. The association ultimately raised $1.1 million for the project, whose scope outlines service to 220 customers. The first customer broadband connection was installed in the town last July. Most of the connections will go to individual residences, though Nicasio School and small businesses in the area are also part of the system. “The importance in terms of economic development, access to tele-medicine, education for children that don’t have broadband in homes, public safety communications, is just immense,” said Peter Pratt, a county consultant working with the Marin County Broadband Task Force. “In Nicasio, the landowners were reaching out to the county, [saying] ‘This is the 21st century, and we don’t have basic broadband in our homes.’” Inyo Networks has also worked to make its service available for low-income residents. Any Nicasio residents who meet the requirements of the C.P.U.C.’s Lifeline program—which helps make phone services available to low-income and disabled people—will receive the broadband at a reduced rate: $29.95 per month instead of the $89 for standard users. “We’re not getting reimbursed by C.P.U.C. for that service, we’re just giving it if that person qualifies,” explained Nick Keeler, Inyo’s president and chief operations officer. Mr. Keeler said the company has been working with both homeowners and the census to identify qualifying low-income residents, eight of whom have so far set up discounted connections. The Nicasio project is the first collaborative broadband project in the county, where nearly 4,000 locations had inadequate broadband connections in 2014. In May, Inyo received a $1.87 million grant to deploy broadband in Bolinas. After the Bolinas project is completed, the county has estimated that number of underserved locations will go down to 700. Low-income Nicasio residents interested in joining the network may call Inyo's local customer service line at (415) 630.4287.