Borrego Last Mile PPP Showcase
Last updated 3/6/2023 at 10:01am
The San Diego County Comprehensive Broadband Plan puts a high priority on addressing low availability in Borrego Springs
In January 2023, the Land Use and Environmental Group (LUEG) of the County of San Diego published the Comprehensive Broadband Plan (CoSD CBP), fully two years after the SANDAG Digital Divide Task Force was established by a SANDAG Board vote in January, 2021. On the ground, the residents of Borrego Springs and other backcountry communities throughout the county are anxious to see investments that lead to meaningful improvements in addressing the rural digital divide. As captured in the Comprehensive Broadband Plan, to be future proof, more fiber is needed in the last mile.
On the ground from Borrego Springs, I am pleased to report that in October 2022, Zito Media doubled the download speeds for all subscribers. However, outages have persisted, sometimes impacting important community events, such as lectures at local organizations (e.g., ABDNHA – the Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association), important meetings for employees and self-employed workers working from home, and students doing online homework and preparing their online college applications. Meanwhile, AT&T has continued to transition existing subscribers off their fixed network and on to fixed wireless, having decided not to upgrade their existing copper plant in the backcountry to fiber.
The unincorporated community of Borrego Springs with around a thousand households sprinkled over 25 square miles is split between two Census Tracts 210.01 and 210.02, (see Figure 1).
The CoSD Comprehensive Broadband Plan (CBP) places a high priority on addressing broadband in Borrego Springs and neighboring mountain and desert communities. The CBP prioritizes Census Tract 210.01 at number 3, and Census Tract 210.02 at number 8 out of a list of 198 Community Planning Areas in the county. Overall, CPA 210.01 is categorized as low adoption/low availability, and the CPA 210.02 is categorized as high adoption/low availability (Figure 2). We believe that this characterization makes Borrego Springs in particular, very suitable for investment in our last-mile broadband infrastructure – our high adoption indicates high interest in better service by our community of seniors, students, and remote workers; the low availability indicates that our community sees that the currently provided service quality is inadequate to their needs.
The CPUC Federal Funding Account will disburse $2.8 billion for Last Mile projects to be completed by 2027
The California Public Utilities Commission has established The Federal Funding Account, to fund last mile broadband infrastructure projects to connect unserved and underserved Californians with high-speed broadband service. The Federal Funding Account has a $2 billion budget made up of state and federal funds. Projects built using the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds must be built by 2027.2 In addition to the $2 billion for last mile grants, the funding account includes a $750 million loan loss reserve fund, and $50 million in technical assistance grants.
The California Public Utilities Commission has published their latest Priority Areas Map: https://cpucpriorityareasmap.vetro.io/map#5.65/37.393/-116.87. While much of the data collected for the map is sound, we question their methodology. Borrego Springs is not included as a priority area while other areas close to urban population centers are included perhaps because of proximity to the proposed State Middle Mile Network.3 A closer look at the data justifies the need for investment in better broadband service in Borrego Springs (Figure 3).
Borrego Springs: Existing Middle Mile and a Showcase Public Private Partnership for Last Mile
While the proposed State Middle Mile network does not touch Borrego Springs, there are other public and private middle mile providers that already bring high bandwidth fiber and microwave connections to Borrego Springs. We understand that Zito Media and AT&T have middle mile fiber in Borrego Springs. The Borrego Springs Unified School District and Borrego Springs Library are served by GeoLinks.
The County of San Diego and SANDAG are at the forefront of efforts to address the digital divide ahead of statewide initiatives.4 There is an opportunity to make Borrego Springs a state-wide proof of concept for a public private partnership to bridge the rural digital divide. The Broadband Task Force and our community is ready to work with the staff at San Diego County LUEG, the staff at SANDAG, and with the private providers that already serve our community, to apply for CPUC Federal Funding Account grants to bring last mile fiber to our homes and businesses in Borrego Springs as well as our neighboring desert and mountain communities, including Ranchita, Ocotillo Wells, and Shelter Valley.
We anticipate that the CPUC Federal Funding Account Notice Of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) will be announced within the next two months. We request the County and SANDAG, and the private providers (Zito Media, AT&T, GeoLinks) to begin work on our behalf to prepare for the upcoming funding opportunity. The CBP research and CPUC data are comprehensive and available. Early preparation by a public private partnership will ensure success.