Cruzio Blog.

Who’s Working from Home? The Pet Edition

Now that Cruzio’s staff is mostly working from home, we get to meet each other’s pets as we videoconference. Here’s a sampling of pet photos from our non-human-wfh-officemates channel:

 

Sometimes we barely realize they’re there

Cam's spherical cat

Cam’s spherical cat

Peggy's spherical cat

Peggy’s spherical cat

Jesus's pup is tuckered out

Jesus’s pup is tuckered out

 

Though they might cop an attitude

 

Do not mess with Ocean

Do not mess with Ocean

 

 

Because cats and cabbages

Because cats and cabbages

 

My office mate refuses to talk to me

My office mate refuses to talk to me

 

Aw man, almost Monday

Aw man, almost Monday

 

What are you doing here?

What are you doing here?

 

Other times they seem to think they could be doing the job better, frankly,  than we seem to. And maybe they’re right…

 

Taxidermist monitors the power tools

Taxidermist monitors the power tools

 

If Mark forgets to close the door, Jasper wants equal time

If Mark forgets to close the door, Jasper wants equal time

 

Milton & Molly notinterested in discussing James using the kitchen table today

Milton & Molly not interested in discussing James using the kitchen table today

 

Oh you think you're gonna use the computer?

Oh you think you’re gonna use the computer?

 

Well so will I. TO TAKE A BATH.

Well so will I. TO TAKE A BATH.

 

Ziggy is stoked to videoconference

Ziggy is stoked to videoconference

Fulton enjoys working from home

Fulton enjoys working from home

 

Bent to tie my shoe and I am now Milton's ergonomic workstation

Bent to tie my shoe and I am now Milton’s ergonomic workstation

 

Iasha's cat plays fetch and keeps bringing her toys

Iasha’s cat plays fetch and keeps bringing her toys

 

But you know, when we look up from a long day’s work at home, it’s nice to see that friendly non-human officemate’s face…

 

Something special about walking down the hall and seeing your dog sitting there dressed in a Hawaiian shirt

Something special about walking down the hall and seeing your dog sitting there dressed in a Hawaiian shirt

Homeward Bound: A Coronavirus Story

The last couple of weeks have been an utter whirlwind. Providing customer support for our shared coworking space has been a unique challenge. There’s no roadmap for dealing with a crisis like this, so — like billions of citizens around the world — we’ve been figuring it out one day at a time.

This worldwide event sometimes feels like an action movie. We are living through the second most searched-for film on PS4: yes, I am referring to Pandemic.

Taking active and highly visible measures and then communicating those measures to our coworking community has been major in the early stages. Door handles, sink faucets, appliances, and anything frequented by human hands was sanitized twice a day. We have still been operating mostly like normal. Staff’s been taking every precaution, including washing our hands as soon as we set foot in our office. We’ve been taking advice from our community to heart, and did deep cleanings of the restroom walls, particularly around hand dryers.

Our friends at Peachy Kleen made a special visit and professionally cleaned our meeting rooms, the atrium, and every black fabric chair throughout the atrium last Saturday. On Monday I thoroughly wiped down the leather chairs in the Atrium.

Our efforts had two key purposes: to do our part to slow the spread of novel coronavirus to keep our community healthy, and to soothe our tenants in these tense and uncertain times. The optics of witnessing me wiping down a surface were almost as important as the wiping itself!

This goes straight to the heart of the importance of good communication. The CDC kept local governments informed of developments in the spread of coronavirus and Santa Cruz County followed other local municipalities and ordered a “shelter in place” effective Tuesday, March 17 at midnight. In turn, we did our best to publish the steps we were taking and relaying this information to tenants at every turn. We were figuring it out one day at a time.

I had the most surreal birthday yesterday. Most of our staff, nearly thirty people, packed up their essential belongings, computers, monitors, keyboards, mice — anything they might need to work from home. It felt like the scene in The Empire Strikes Back when the resilient Rebels are evacuating the ice planet Hoth. And we all know that feeling.

Our field operations and sysadmin teams, undaunted by the task at hand, transported and set up remote workstations in bedrooms and on dining room tables of countless employees in countless homes. In less than a day, we had moved an entire company. We had never done this before at such scale.

I type this from my bedroom. I’m optimistic that with these extreme measures, through this bizarre mass social experiment, we’ll come out of this stronger and more resilient than ever. Like Empire this will undoubtedly get worse before it’s over. But ultimately, by the end of the sequel Return of the Jedi our heroes are victorious, evil is pushed back and vanquished, and everyone gets to throw a huge party with the Ewoks.

~ Alex

COVID-19 — Cruzio is Preparing, not Panicking

To Our Customers & Community:

 

We’re living through an unusual time. Although the COVID-19 virus has only just started to visibly hit Santa Cruz County, we are expecting and preparing for more. 

Local schools and universities are shutting down. Many companies are asking employees to work from home. Many local people are staying home voluntarily, creating “social distance” that will help to slow the progress of the virus.

Our community has to come together to deal with this, medically and economically. 

In any crisis, communication is vital.

This is obviously true for social distancing and telecommuting — whether it’s an employee working at her kitchen table or a grandfather stuck at home Netflixing, people need internet. And there’s an enhanced call for getting information, for telemedicine, and generally feeling less isolated.

We’re very aware that Cruzio is a lifeline utility, especially now, and reliable, fast service to our current customers is our top priority. Luckily, Cruzio has a robust, redundant network. We already have no data caps or limits. But we have to do more.

Here are the measures Cruzio is taking to maintain reliable service and keep our community healthy: 

  1. We’re following guidelines and limiting face-to-face contact
    Normally, we love to see folks in our storefront. But for now, to reduce possible infection vectors, we’re asking that you contact us over the internet wherever possible.

    If you need to pay a bill, please use your online account portal. If you have a question (like “how do I use my account portal?”), try contacting us through our contact page — or give us a call at 831459-6301 extension 2.

  2. Special care for repairs, new equipment, surveys, and installs
    Even Cruzio can’t use the internet for everything. But we’ll be careful when we need to deal with you in person. Our employees are following guidelines by reducing close contact, wiping down equipment, and washing hands before and after working at customer locations. Please extend the same courtesy to them!

  3. Our coworking is open, but we’re taking extra measures to stay safe
    Coworkers are still using our space, and we’re working hard to keep everything clean and virus-free.

  4. Cruzio needs to stay healthy
    It’s important for Cruzio’s staff to remain healthy and prevent infection, both inside and outside our office — for our work’s sake as well as our own. We need healthy staff to take care of our customers and our network.

    Employees who don’t have to be on site will be working from home. Frequent hand-washing is required. We’re wiping down counters, doorknobs, and surfaces frequently throughout the day. Cruzio employees are instructed not to come to work if they are ill.

  5. It’s going to be tough financially, for our company and our customers
    Recognizing that people may be in less of a position to make prompt payments, while their situation may mean they need the internet, Cruzio will not be suspending service when a payment is late.

  6. We’ll keep the network running
    Almost goes without saying but through all of this our top priority will be keeping our network up and running. We’ve come through in emergencies before. This is where we prove our mettle.

All of us need to keep up with the best advice from authorities. And as we see local businesses suffering, let’s be supportive of them — Casey Coonerty Protti wrote an excellent letter on how to do that. 

We also strongly encourage donating to the Second Harvest Food Bank and to local clinics — Dominican and Watsonville Community Hospital, and other medical centers — to assist those who may need help in coming weeks.

Let’s look out for one another. Let’s take the measures we need to reduce harm and promote well-being in Santa Cruz County, and make our community a safe and sound place.

Stay well,

 —Chris Neklason, Peggy Dolgenos, and all the folks at Cruzio Internet and Santa Cruz Fiber

This Might be the Most Beautiful Building in Santa Cruz

Piedmont Court, Santa Cruz

We like surprises — like gigabit internet in Victorian-era buildings

There’s a beautiful, historic apartment building where High and Highland Streets meet on Santa Cruz’s West Side, called the Piedmont Court. We think it ranks with the prettiest in town.

Now every resident of that building can get gigabit internet for just $30 per month. And $30 is not a temporary price — it’s the real price! It’s extra low because their apartment management did a group buy of Cruzio Internet.

Putting new communications infrastructure in hundred-plus-year-old-buildings is challenging, but when you aim to serve everyone in Santa Cruz it’s a necessity. Cruzio has installed new wiring in every style of house from Spanish to Craftsman to Victorian to tilt-up concrete, working with attention and care.

We’re Always Upgrading Elderly Buildings

Some other historic buildings Cruzio has wired include the Santa Cruz Civic Center, Loudon Nelson, the Museum of Art and History, the Leonard Building, and little Victorian houses all over town. We’ve even brought wireless internet to the Wharf and the Lighthouse. With Cruzio’s fiber construction, some of the oldest, funkiest buildings in town get some of the fastest internet in the USA.

In our list of Victorian-era construction sites, we’ll include the streets of Santa Cruz, under which our fiber optic cables are laid. Beneath the streets is a maze of vital, in-use infrastructure along with ancient, long-abandoned, unmarked pipes — some of them made of redwood! Like working in a fragile Victorian house, when we drill underground we run into a lot of maze- and puzzle-like situations.

Even Cruzio’s own headquarters, in downtown Santa Cruz, is old. Our building once housed the local newspaper — The Sentinel — with its hard-bitten reporters shouting into rotary phones as they took slugs of bourbon from bottles stashed in desk drawers. That was state-of-the-art communications in the mid-20th century. The building’s a dinosaur: a “tilt-up” with 10-inch-thick concrete walls lightly decorated with crushed rock. It’s bulky and old-fashioned, but we equipped it with the best internet in the county: 10 gigabits per second, straight from the internet backbone. That’s the firehose of bandwidth we distribute around Santa Cruz County. We get tremendous speed here.

Cruzio building

Try to install internet throughout this cast-concrete sucker! Cruzio did it.

And if your multi-tenant site works with us, we can help you as well. Your building — or your condo or community HOA — could have premier service and discounted prices like sweet old-fashioned hyper-fast Piedmont Court.

Ready For Anything: How Cruzio Planned, Built, and Tested a 10 Gigabit Connection in Less Than 8 Hours

A photo of our completed backup link as the sun sets in Watsonville.

Over here at Cruzio, we’re familiar with challenges. When trouble strikes, in the internet infrastructure biz, it strikes hard. We’re always prepared for any eventuality, and we do our best to make sure all of our friends and customers don’t even realize a crisis is happening at all. Case in point: a major fiber cut in Watsonville yesterday afternoon.

Working with fiber can be incredibly rewarding, as it lets us get previously unimaginable internet speeds throughout the county. That said, fiber cable is made of glass, and glass can be broken with enough force. Yesterday, a construction crew’s backhoe used a lot of force to break the 288 separate strands of fiber that form our backbone into Watsonville while taking out a water main in the process. At around noon, we saw the effects of the fiber cut suddenly pop up on our network, and our infrastructure team sprang into action.

A Week’s Worth of Work in a Matter of Hours

Within one hour, our team had developed a plan to build a new 10 gigabit connection to bring the network back online using Aviat Networks’ millimeter wave radio platform. This isn’t a quick fix, by the way, infrastructure at this level would normally take weeks of planning and at least a few full days of work to build. Our team planned it out in less than an hour and was rolling out to get it built very shortly after that. All told, we were able to complete the initial build of our backup infrastructure in around 4 hours, and we were up and running in less than 6. That’s at least 3 full days of work for a normal infrastructure team, completed in less than 8 hours. Do they have superpowers? Perhaps.

By the time the fiber was restored at around midnight, many of the people in our field operations team had worked well over 12 hours that day to make sure our customers were affected as little as possible. Now, a day later, everything is restored, and all is normal again. In fact, better: we now have a permanent backup in place to avoid even small disruptions.

So maybe today we’re a bit sleepy. But we’re proud of the quick, efficient and responsive work we did in making sure as few people as humanly possible felt the wrath of The Great Watsonville Fiber Cut of 2020. Kudos to the team who’s capable of such extraordinary work: Frost, Ali, Mark, Colin, Cam, Jay, Spencer, Hans, and Luis.

How Cruzio Got a Jingle

Cruzio Internet jingle contest winner

Jingle contest winner Tim Hartnett with esteemed Cruzioworks manager Andrew DiMarzio

The day after last year’s crazy-as-usual Santa Cruz Halloween, Cruzio got a whole new party going for our friends, customers, and community. 

giant inflatable aliens

Cruzio staffers Tony and Cam placing giant inflatable aliens on our awning

We made this — our 30th(!!) anniversary bash — ultra-special with giant inflatable aliens on the roof, a fantastic 80s throwback playlist, and… a jingle contest.

Why a Jingle?

Why a jingle? Maybe we were feeling the need for a song.

Until November 1st, 2019, Cruzio was a company without a jingle. We had a beloved kitty logo, a well-functioning website, a big sign on our building. All those things make you feel like a real company. But we were missing that elusive element and it haunted us. We’d listen to Kars4Kids, and think, okay, that’s them. But who are we? What’s our melody?

Sure, we are exaggerating, and maybe a company can exist without a jingle. But we really did think a contest would be fun, and it would give our community the chance to write the song. We have a lot of talented musicians in Santa Cruz and it was a way to give amateurs a chance (in fact, the ultimate winner was an artist who’d never been paid for his music). So we offered a big prize and sent out notices to all the music stores in town. And we got 21 entries over the course of four weeks.

Not All Jingles Sound Alike. At All.

What kinds of songs did people submit? We loved the variety:

  • Reggae
  • Head-banging metal
  • Electronic
  • Cowboy
  • Instrumental
  • Yodeling (we had some arguments about the definition of yodeling, but it sounded yodel-y)
  • Rap
  • …and some that were undefinable

Surprising lyrics, too. A lot more “baby” and “bro” and “yeah yeah yeah” than we expected. One of our favorite jingles started out, “Today is a happy day.” That’s so Santa Cruz!

How’d We Decide?

We spent a few weeks with headphones on, listening over and over to how our musically talented community defined their home-town ISP. By the time of the party, we’d memorized most of the songs — the ones that we could make out the lyrics to, anyway. (Somehow, our perceptive marketing staffer Brian was able to decipher *all* the lyrics, Even the fuzziest ones. So we asked him for help a lot.) We sat at a meeting and sang along with all the songs to see how they felt. We had a lot of fun. You might say, fun was the point.

And we were right about the talented people in our community. We had some amazing songs, and some folks came and performed at our big party. We’ll never forget the tremendous air-guitar lip-sync one of the contestants did to the head-banger metal song. Another group did a little skit about a computer. All that enthusiasm made it hard to choose.

We were looking for a song that was catchy but not annoying, that was performed well, and that spoke to our Cruzio ethos: not just fast internet, but fair treatment of our customers, staff, and community. That’s a lot to fit into 15 seconds.

jingle contest judges

Our judges, conferring in chambers

But we had help. We didn’t just call on our creative community of Santa Cruz for jingle writers. We also got the best of the best to judge. Here were our esteemed judges:

  • Andrew Smith from experimental music promoter and record label Indexical
  • Jon Luini  from music, web, and video producer Chime Interactive
  • Alana Matthews, music fan from Cruzio
  • Ani Zickuhr, artist and brand specialist from Cruzio
  • Thea Luini, teen judge, representing the youth of America

Because they were judges, they wore curly white wigs. Each provided expert commentary, and helped us pick the prizes.

And here are the results:

Overall winner: Tim Hartnett, “Get Connected with Cruzio”

Judges’ favorite: The Jingleberries, Surfing with Cruzio”

Crowd favorite (from applause at the party): DreamTonic, “Today is a Happy Day”
(by the way, DreamTonic just released a single called I Take to You)

People’s Choice (received most online votes): Jon Benson and band, “At the Speed of a Click”

Want to hear all the jingle entries and see if we made the right choice? Here’s every entry we got. (It doesn’t take long to listen to all of them, they only last seconds, not minutes.)

Want to know what local artists wrote about Cruzio in their jingles? Here are all the lyrics.

And here’s a video of our 30th year party!

The Rolling Stones Wrote a Rice Crispies Jingle?

Now that we have a jingle, we’re looking into the jingle universe and we’ve found some amazing things.

Cruzio’s Jingle Champ Tim Hartnett is in good company. Another jingle writer was Brian Jones, who wrote a Rice Crispies tune performed by his little band, the Rolling Stones, with Mick Jagger singing the lyrics.

60s Dad

60s Dad winces — ugh, The Rolling Stones! Where’s Frank Sinatra?

And there’s more. Maybe the most famous jingle writer was none other than 80s pop idol Barry Manilow. Brian Jones’s ditty didn’t crack the ear-worm barrier into a tune you find yourself incessantly humming, but Manilow was more effective: among his successes: “Stuck on Bandaid” and “Like a Good Neighbor” (Statefarm) and McDonalds’ “You Deserve a Break Today”. Yup, that was Barry Manilow, of “Copacabana” and “I Write the Songs” pop ballad success in the 70’s.

Barry Manilow

Why didn’t Barry Manilow stick to jingles?

Not Ashamed

We haven’t seen the Rolling Stones promoting their former jingle creations, but Manilow’s not ashamed. All the Manilow jingles are listed on his website and he sings them in his concerts. You’ve probably heard a lot of them, because a good jingle is forever. But Manilow didn’t write the Nationwide song that Manning and Brad Paisley hum on countless commercials. Who wrote that one?

That would be Steve Karmen, “King of the Jingle,” who’s much better known for jingles than for his non-commercial songwriting. The Nationwide jingle was the fourth one he wrote and no, he doesn’t get paid every time it’s aired. He was paid up front and probably regrets that deal. Manilow, too: he got paid $500 for the McDonalds jingle that’s on the air constantly to this day.

Did anyone else become famous writing a jingle for a contest, like the one Cruzio just had? Why, yes!

Do you ever “wish you had an Oscar Meyer Weiner?” If so, you can thank Richard Trentlage. In 1962, he entered a contest and produced one of the most epic jingles of all time. He got famous, the Weiners sold like hotcakes (tbh how fast do hotcakes sell these days?), the jingle lives on and on. As it was with so many jingles.

oscar meyer jingle

This jingle won a contest too

So What Happened to Jingles?

Somehow, the jingle tradition seems to have died away, with some notable, usually unbearable, exceptions. Maybe people just aren’t as hokey as they used to be — we’re more cynical these days, and we have more choices to listen to.

If feels like the drift started with “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing” from 1971. Was this the first non-jingle jingle? The lyrics were written by an advertising executive, but it fit the groovy mood of the day. It even became a hit song after the writers added a few more verses. (Will Cruzio’s jingle take off in this way?)

Coke jingle

I’d like to teach the world to sing — in other words, buy more soda

Then jingles dwindled, at least for big corporations. In the 80s, they started paying pop stars like Michael Jackson, rather than bland B actors, to drink soda and drive cars. Musicians started seeing the benefit of airplay, and got over the bad taste of commercialization. Companies that own musicians’ catalogs saw even less downside. At first, companies tried to commission existing popular songs. Then, flipping the tables, now many songs get popular after they’re in commercials, rather than before.

Kars4Kids — Not Just Annoying

There are still jingles, but the quality has declined. Some companies resurrect old jingles to be funny (like Nationwide), and the old favorites come up from time to time nostalgically, but new ones are rare. And those that do make it onto TV are pretty awful.

A candidate for “worst jingle ever” these days is Kars4Kids, which is played incessantly nationwide. Nearly every jingle Cruzio received in our contest was more listenable than this one. Most people probably do not like this jingle. But according to Charity Navigator, Kars4Kids took in over $77 million in contributions in 2018!

According to Charity Watch, Kars4Kids is at best misleading and, to some critics, a downright scam. A lot of jingle-generated donations go to a very small number of “kids.” Which somehow fits in with their awful jingle.

Cruzio’s Jingle: A Force for Good

Cruzio’s jingle, of course, will only be used for good. We like that it urges people to “get connected.” It’s a little like standing on a mountaintop, hand in hand, teaching the world to sing.

Equal Access Santa Cruz Wins Big

Let us know if you live in one of these neighborhoods! We’ll include you in our plans.

Cruzio Wins a Grant

On December 5th Cruzio was awarded a $2.45 Million broadband grant from the California Advanced Services Fund to build high-speed fiber optic internet connectivity to seven under-served mobile home parks in the Capitola area.

Why Santa Cruz County Needs Equal Access

When Cruzio started building our Santa Cruz Fiber network, Santa Cruz County was rated 446th of 501 California metropolitan areas for internet speeds. Too small to attract investment from big ISPs, and too populated for rural subsidy programs, our county wallowed in neglected infrastructure.

Until the early 2000s, Cruzio relied on leased AT&T lines. Those lines were built in an earlier, highly-regulated and subsidized era. With less regulation from the FCC, the big ISPs took advantage of their existing infrastructure and a lack of competition to save costs. Saving costs usually results in lower quality of service.

To our dismay, they started letting local wires age and fray. We realized we had to free ourselves from that aging network and we started building independent infrastructure. Now Cruzio has a considerable — and growing — network serving thousands of local residents. Wherever we build, we bring better options to the community.

We want to get that infrastructure where it’s needed most. So we’ve started an effort we call Equal Access Santa Cruz (EASC). And in early December, EASC won a substantial grant from the State of California.

We Know How Important Internet Is

For years, Cruzio Director James Hackett has said, “Internet is a utility that’s become as vital as gas, electricity, or even water.”

Something so vital to modern life needs to be available equally to all, no matter what their location or economic circumstances.

The just-announced grant takes a big step towards that goal. After a year of seemingly endless documentation (and many prior years accumulating expertise and experience), on December 5th, 2019 James and fellow Director Chris Frost drove up to Sacramento to receive the grant award for Cruzio’s Equal Access Santa Cruz project. Hooray!

Fiber optic internet installed at El Rio Mobile Home Park

Cruzio brought fiber internet to El Rio mobile home park in 2018

Equal Access Santa Cruz

We’re honored to get the grant, and it’s for a great project. There are several communications “deserts” around Santa Cruz County which have sub-standard internet, as defined by the FCC. Many of these areas are in mobile home parks, where incomes are lower, on average, than the communities around them. They’ve been ignored by big ISPs — big corporations have a habit of ignoring consumers. Especially lower-income ones.

Cruzio identified seven such communities in mid-County that we can reach with the best internet anyone can build: fiber optic connections direct to each home. Residents of these parks have, till now, experienced some of the worst connectivity in Santa Cruz County. With this project, they can look forward to the best in the USA.

We weren’t the only ones who recognized the need for better internet in mid-county neighborhoods. Member of Congress Jimmy Panetta, State Assembly Member Mark Stone, County Supervisors Zach Friend and John Leopold, and many other elected and appointed officials helped move the project forward.

This is All About Infrastructure, and That Can Get Complex. Any Chance You’re Still Reading?

Building infrastructure is tough work. Construction is expensive, time-consuming, and rife with licenses and regulations. We don’t doubt it’s boring to read about — a lot of our job is literally boring holes and feeding cable through them.

But Cruzio builds fiber to last a lifetime. And we know our work will change lives and livelihoods well into the future. It’s tough work, but it’s work worth doing.

Equal Access Santa Cruz Wins Big, Part II

Easc Map 800

Let us know if you live in one of these neighborhoods! We’ll include you in our plans.

When we last left our determined independent ISP, Cruzio announced that it won a grant to serve low-income mobile home parks in mid-County Santa Cruz. But before the grant was won, there was the grant process.

We Really Fit the Bill

Cruzio’s Equal Access Santa Cruz (EASC) project is tailor-made for the purposes of the State of California’s California Advanced Services Fund (CASF): “to encourage deployment of high-quality advanced communication services to all Californians.

All Californians. Not just the ones living in the priciest houses in the middle of town.

Cruzio’s project equalizes internet access across geographic areas and income levels, and puts much-needed new infrastructure into neighborhoods where substandard service currently exists. We’re a local company getting our community the internet it needs. We know how to do this; we’ve done it before.

Slam dunk.

And anyone in a position to know agreed. That was a start.

The Rocky Road We Travelled

Rocky Beach 800

We’re from Santa Cruz. We’re used to rocks.

Those of you who’ve applied for grants know it can be difficult and time-consuming — especially if you have to fight some of the largest corporations in the United States in the process. AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum anyone?

In an effort to boost internet quality in the US without pissing off well-funded interests, federal and state agencies  came up with a system that’s fairly byzantine and mostly controlled by the companies which own most of the existing infrastructure — yup, those big companies mentioned above.

Using the bizarre argument that competition stifles investment, lobbyists for those large companies have set up guard rails to protect their market positions at the cost of consumers. Because of their efforts, if an existing ISP claims to provide six megabits per second downstream to even one home in an area — regardless of the price to the consumer — that area is considered “served” and no grants for improved service will be awarded.

There is no method in place to check the validity of service claims. So money tends to sit in the pot as competitive ISPs like Cruzio search for places that don’t reach even that dismal standard.

Big ISPs Jealously Guard Their Monopolies

When we found such areas in the middle of our own county, based on years of maps produced by the FCC, and applied for funding, suddenly a big ISP took an interest — not in building better infrastructure, but in quashing our grant request. Suddenly, Spectrum declared the area “served” and asked the CPUC to turn us down.

That challenge succeeded, and took about half the mobile homes out of our project. Those residences won’t get a boost from the grant. Cruzio will try to extend to them privately, but the cost of infrastructure is high. As a result of the challenge by Spectrum, the benefit of the grant is more limited than we first intended.

We pressed on, though. From February to November 2019, we went through regulatory and environmental hurdles. We proved our long-term sustainability (Cruzio celebrated 30 years as an internet company in 2019, for goodness’ sake) and financial health. Finally, on November 4th, we got a provisional okay on our remaining proposal.

But — play some minor chords in this scene — it was only a recommendation, not an award.

Hey, what’s the difference? Just the final stamp on the paperwork.

We waited for the commission to give us the final thumbs up. This was an unbearably tense time. The behemoth ISPs now had one more chance to challenge our request. Weeks went by. The deadline approached. Things looked hopeful — looks like we made it? A lot of finger crossing and trying not to jinx it.

The Day Before the Deadline

Then suddenly, the day before the final decision, Spectrum/Charter put in a last-minute dispute. They wanted to remove even more from the project, so that we’d have just a skinny strip of modular homes to serve with an awesome, but expensive, new network. That would change the economic viability of the project. It would kill it.

We were crazy worried. We reached out to our elected officials. Jimmy Panetta’s office responded quickly, and took steps to defend the project. But there were many hazards. The former chair of the commission had retired. The new chair was an unknown to us and to many advocates. Would she be more susceptible to lobbying pressure? Nail-biting time.

Then, out of the blue, a knight in shining regulatory armor appeared. Steve Blum, of the aforementioned CCBC, has helped many municipalities plan and build network infrastructure. He submitted a firm rebuttal to the commissioners defending not only our grant but the program itself and its aim of increasing low-cost, high performance internet throughout the State of California.  If you’d like to see community advocacy at work, read his letter here.

The CPUC recognized the merit of the argument. They approved the grant. The CPUC had done its job. Yay.

Next Steps

Now we need to do ours. Winning the grant is only one step in a long chain. Funding is given as a reimbursement for finished work, not an up-front payment. So we have to finance and construct the network before we see a penny.

And although we have the support of the parks’ residents, we’ve discovered that many mobile-home parks have been “rolled up” by private equity firms in the last decade or so. People in the parks generally rent the land their homes are on  — they own the structures, not the dirt. Most parks used to be owned by local companies or HOAs, but not so much any more. We need access to the dirt, because we install our fiber underground.

The actual owners are now pretty detached from the parks and difficult to reach. Cruzio needs to work with the owners and park managers to help their residents get free upgrades to their internet, and it is often a challenge finding anyone willing to answer an email or a phone call.

But we are up for the challenge. It was such a great feeling to “light up” our first mobile home park, the El Rio in downtown Santa Cruz. We’ll never forget the joy when residents saw they had gigabit speeds for their business, their kids’ homework, and their entertainment. Equal, best-of-breed access is what it’s really about.

Santa Cruz Fiber Crew At El Rio 800

Our crew at the El Rio mobile home build site

Here’s Where We Get to Thank Everybody

The Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) championed our cause. The CCBC is a state-funded group of experts who spend their time studying where in our tri-county region (Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito) the internet sucks, and then figuring out how to improve it. Yes, there’s actually someone paying attention to this!

CCBC loved our idea and helped immeasurably. Many thanks especially to Steve Blum and Freny Cooper from Monterey Bay Economic Partnership for their support and for helping us navigate the tsunami of required paperwork, which they somehow understand.

Congress member Jimmy Panetta and his office saw our plan and encouraged us to go forward. Mr. Panetta has been a long-time, well-informed advocate for internet availability and fairness. We’ve seen him take the right side of the argument on Net Neutrality and personal privacy on the internet. He has some top-notch help in his office: Panetta aides Emmanuel Garcia, Matt Manning, and Carina Chavez made sure their boss’s letters of support reached people in the CPUC.

We’re also lucky to have even a State Assembly member who understands the importance of internet to families and businesses around our county. You may not be aware that Mark Stone is a powerful advocate for fast, fair, low-cost internet. He’s tried hard, and against heavy odds, to raise standards in our state. When it comes to EASC, he advocated for his constituents and lent his voice.

The support went down the line. County Supervisors Zach Friend and John Leopold, along with Capitola City Manager Jamie Goldstein and Santa Cruz County Economic Development Manager Andy Constable deserve credit for their participation in the process.

And many thanks to the folks at the CPUC, who gave us the nod. We intend to do them proud. This project will be a feather in their cap.

 

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