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Surfnet set to bring fiber broadband services to rural North County

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San Luis Obispo County's rural north is about to be hooked on a fiber diet of the digital kind.

ALL LINED UP Through the $10 million California Public Utilities Commission grant, Surfnet Communications will provide fiber broadband services to the far reaches of northern SLO County like Shandon, and Ground Squirrel Hollow and Linne community services districts. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SURFNET COMMUNICATIONS
  • Photo Courtesy Of Surfnet Communications
  • ALL LINED UP Through the $10 million California Public Utilities Commission grant, Surfnet Communications will provide fiber broadband services to the far reaches of northern SLO County like Shandon, and Ground Squirrel Hollow and Linne community services districts.

A $10 million grant from the California Public Utilities Commission will enable wireless internet service provider Surfnet Communications to provide high-speed fiber broadband services to the underserved parts of SLO, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara counties.

"The government's goal, from the Biden administration down to the state of California, all of them agree, they want fiber to every home," Surfnet Chief Operating Officer Ken Nye told New Times. "In the cities, that's pretty much done. Now, it comes to the rural areas."

The $10 million grant, which comes from the California Advanced Services Fund, belongs to a $6 billion package of historic broadband legislation called Senate Bill 156. Signed into law in 2021 by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the bill helps bridge the digital divide by providing reliable and affordable internet access to all Californians. The Public Utilities Commission allocates the $6 billion fund.

Rural North County, specifically areas like Ground Squirrel Hollow Community Services District, Shandon, and Linne Community Services District are going to receive the lion's share of the $10 million. Surfnet chose North SLO County based on the commission's maps that called for fiber broadband services in specific areas. North County emerged as an area that the grant money could most effectively cover when Surfnet overlaid its available network over those maps.

Nye said that roughly $7 million would be used to extend fiber broadband services to 1,500 houses in SLO County.

"We're going to hit a higher population count in SLO [County]," he said. "In Santa Cruz, we're hitting the Santa Cruz Mountains, which is much more a niche group of houses. In SLO County ... it's more flat and so there are more houses in one given area."

Santa Cruz-based Surfnet has been present in SLO County and beyond since 2008, serving populations from San Miguel to Santa Barbara County's Santa Maria. The grant fund lets Surfnet leverage its existing network to offer fiber in places that "the AT&Ts and the Charters have left behind," according to Nye.

"There's a big cry for broadband," he said. "You don't think about your internet. You move out to the rural part, you have to struggle for your internet."

Take it from Shandon resident James Blasingame.

"I've got Ranch Wifi, which blows," he told New Times via Facebook. "I'm able to stream but no gaming. 10 [megabits per second] up and down. Their P2P [peer-to-peer] devices should be able to do 1 Gig speeds."

North County resident Elissa Murray said she faces communication issues because she uses Nomad Internet that taps into the cellular network.

"Pretty good when it works but lately with the outages, I've had spotty connection if any at all and that makes it very difficult as we don't have a landline, so my house goes dead when that happens," she said via Facebook.

The first customers of Surfnet's expansion project will receive fiber broadband services in the fall. The service provider is now engaged in engineering work.

"This grant is to be completed within 18 months," Nye said. "We'll start the work now with one area, then the engineers will be doing the second area while the construction's being done on the first area. They'll kind of leapfrog each other." Δ

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