California’s planned backbone routes are marked in dark orange. The Highway 9 route (circled) was included after Cruzio led a push for it. The routes still leaves large gaps in parts of Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Monterey Counties, which we are trying to address with state grants.
The Tri-Bay area — from Half Moon Bay, west of San Francisco Bay to Monterey Bay — needs better internet.
That’s Cruzio country. Partly mountainous, partly coastal, all beautiful (of course) but challenging for constructing broadband networks. We’re working hard on it.
Some of the construction can be financed privately, because it’s economically feasible. Cruzio is rapidly building to many areas that have relatively dense housing and reasonable construction costs. But in some parts of our service area, the costs are so high or the revenue potential so small that no company has been building reliable infrastructure.
Fires, Floods, Pandemic — And Couldn’t Call 911
We know the issues well. Outside the urban well-to-do areas, there are — increasingly —internet haves and have-nots. And that has serious consequences. Karen Edwards of the Boulder Creek Business Association put it this way: after the area went through fires, flooding, and a pandemic, “I am not ok with folks being 40 minutes from Silicon Valley and not being able to call 911.”
The good news is, federal and state funds are coming available for internet builds. The work ahead is to make sure our area gets its share of those funds and uses them effectively.
That’s not easy! Our hard-to-reach areas are really hard to reach. Not like the midwest or desert states where the land is flatter and there aren’t towering redwoods. In the Tri-Bay area, we’re looking at wind-y mountain roads and isolated, low-income farming and beach communities. These border quaint, well-off towns with lots of building restrictions.
And our proximity to tech hubs — minutes from Silicon Valley — can make grant awarders skeptical of our need.
Cruzio Plans to Build Internet Where It’s Needed
Cruzio has a plan that extends our high-quality internet into rural and low-income (some are both) parts of our region.
In 2022, Cruzio checked out California’s plans for the “middle mile,” or backbone part of government-funded construction. It’s marked in dark orange in the map above. At first the backbone entirely missed the San Lorenzo Valley, which we’re well aware is hungry for better internet.
We got to work, and with the help of many allies — including Jimmy Panetta’s and Anna Eshoo’s offices, as well as the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership — we were able to persuade the state to add a Highway 9 route. That moves the high speed internet closer to where it’s needed, a big win for our region.
But as you can see from the map, there is a lot of country left uncrossed by the dark orange lines. It’s hard to reach homes and businesses in those parts of the state. Unfortunately (but logically), where it’s hard to build internet is also where the need is greatest. So areas that need the most tend to get the least, even in new planning, unless there’s public pressure.
Cruzio Has Technology That Can Scale Mountains
Cruzio knows our region really, really well. We’ve been serving internet here for 34 years. We know where reasonable access is currently impossible, where we can’t offer any internet because the quality would not meet modern standards. People are stuck, either with nothing or with just one unresponsive overpriced national ISP. (We won’t name names, but just note that when you’ve got a near-monopoly, you don’t have to be responsive to customers.)
Cruzio has technology that can bridge many of the gaps in the state’s plans, and fill in a lot more backbone, or middle mile, infrastructure where major highways don’t go. That won’t solve all the problems — getting from a middle mile path to someone’s house in the woods still isn’t easy and it’s definitely not cheap. But it’s been done before, with rural electrification and universal telephone service. Middle mile is the start of that process.
We submitted a middle mile plan, pictured below, to a federal agency. We’re aiming to create mountaintop hubs which can serve nearby areas with very high speed internet.
But Federal Grants are a Painful Process
After our Highway 9 success, we applied for a federal grant to build more middle mile into several areas: the Santa Cruz Mountains, farmland south of Watsonville, and sparsely populated areas along the coast. These are all places where people ask us for internet, and where we often can’t provide it.
All this “middle mile” “last mile” may sound kind of esoteric, but guess what: we found that many of our elected representatives understand these problems and are trying to fix them. They’ve heard a lot from folks living in the internet badlands, and they’re not sitting on their hands. They welcomed our efforts.
Your ability to work, to get an education, and to participate fully in what passes as modern society these days — those all depend on good internet. And imagine what’s yet to come in the next decade or two.
Jimmy Panetta’s office dug in. When we hit a snag in our grant application, his office reached out to help. Shout out to Representative Panetta, his Chief of Staff Peter Spiro, and especially Mark Dennin for working hard on their constituents’ behalf. We saw it up close.
No Time for GAP
It was a tense and disappointing Easter week this year. Why? While all the kids were out on spring break, Cruzio had progressed to stage 3 of the federal grant process. We don’t have a grants team or anything like that. We just see that it needs to be done, and do it. And we were doing quite well. We had a lot of local support (if you wrote in, thank you!!)
Then the funding body — the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA — suddenly threw us a road block. We didn’t yet have audited GAP financials, and they only gave us two weeks to get the audits done — remember it was Easter week! — and the specialized accountants from San Jose who can do such audits told us it would take months. And cost over $100,000 to boot. So we hung up our hats on that one. Cruzio can do many wonderful things, but we can’t compress two months’ work into two weeks.
Panetta Came Through But the NTIA Didn’t
Mark Dennin from Panetta’s office looked into this gnarly matter and called on our behalf. He even reached out on Easter morning. That’s above and beyond. And we know he wasn’t doing it for Cruzio — we’re a pretty small local company (although we’re very charming and competent of course). This was for the people who live in Panetta’s district who want to work or school from home, access health and banking services, or just watch a movie. Cruzio’s grant proposal cuts through the tangle of large corporations trying to vacuum up all the government funds for their existing infrastructure, and building nothing new. We’re different. We’ll put any money we have right to work.
So though we fell short, we wanted to call out that exceptional effort. We also know that Anna Eshoo’s office worked to help (thank you Stuart Styron), and so many local officials, administrators, nonprofits, and just plain folks worked with us. We are sorry it didn’t work out.
But There Is Another Chance
We came back to the project, after a disappointing Spring Holiday, and looked at other funding sources. Luckily there is a state funding source: CASF. We have repackaged our essential middle mile plan and added last-mile extensions to it, and have submitted it to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for consideration. We are working on our GAP accounting. (We actually like the idea that companies get scrutinized before they get funding, as long as smaller companies get a chance.)
Fingers crossed! We’ll let you know our progress, but we think we’ve got a good shot. No one knows the Tri-Bay area like we do.