GeoLinks gets $88 million grant to build out rural internet network

GeoLinks gets $88 million grant to build out rural internet network

By    /   Friday, August 31st, 2018  /

GeoLinks co-founders Skyler Ditchfield, left, and Ryan Adams in the lobby of the company’s headquarters in Camarillo.

An $87.8 million grant to Camarillo telecommunications company GeoLinks will fund the build-out of high-speed internet networks in rural communities of California and Nevada, including parts of the Tri-Counties.

Granted by the Federal Communications Commission as part of nearly $1.5 billion allocated to 103 providers through the Connect America Fund Auction, the deal was the largest allocation in the state and fifth largest in the nation.

Awardees submitted bids to cover more than 700,000 rural homes and small businesses across 45 states. More than half of the locations will be connected with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second, the FCC said in its announcement.

GeoLinks had an existing presence near several of the target locations and had been gearing up for the bid for several months, said CEO Skyler Ditchfield

“It’s really going to help us cross this digital divide,” he told the Business Times, adding that the company plans to layer in “anchor institutions” such as hospitals, schools, libraries and community colleges.

Moreover, the auction “encouraged innovation” by allowing providers to use any broadband technology that met the performance standards, the FCC’s statement said. It was weighted toward bids that would provide higher speeds, higher usage allowances and lower latency.

That included GeoLinks’ solar-powered fixed signal facilities, Ditchfield said, which also means the company isn’t limited by access to utility lines.

With several companies in the mix offering fixed wireless, the deal demonstrates that it’s “a viable alternative to landline options … not an alternative option but a primary option,” he said.

Including GeoLinks, five California companies were awarded a total of $149 million to develop network access for nearly 52,000 locations. Nevada companies received a combined $29.3 million for four bids to bring internet access to around 14,000 locations.

“The successful conclusion of this first-of-its kind auction is great news for the residents of these rural communities, who will finally be able to share in the 21st-century digital opportunities that broadband provides,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in the announcement.

“By tapping the mechanisms of the marketplace, the Phase II auction served as the most appropriate and cost-effective way to allocate funding for broadband in these unserved communities, bringing the highest-quality broadband services to the most consumers at the lowest cost to the ratepayer.”

The FCC is also working toward the launch of a $4.5 billion effort to expand 4G LTE wireless coverage for customers in rural regions called the Mobility Fund Phase II auction. A six-year, $9 billion program through Connect America will also work to extend broadband access in areas already served by large carriers.

GeoLinks has been active in advocating for the use of “white spaces” frequencies and grants to help cover upfront installation costs as a member of an FCC advisory committee working group and the Schools, Health & Library Broadband Coalition.

In an effort to broaden its reach and lure more tech workers, the company moved into a 38,000-square-foot space in Camarillo in mid-2017 and rebranded from its former name California Internet. With 48 employees on staff, it projected that it would reach $17 million in revenue for 2018, up 21 percent from the prior year.

In addition to its March acquisition of Huntington Beach-based fixed wireless provider Vectus, another acquisition is in the works for GeoLinks, Ditchfield said, which would potentially “add density for us in California and Nevada.”

The company, which got its start in Ojai, is also working to bring 3 gigabit service using the technology to urban areas in Southern California and elsewhere. As part of the grant, it will help build out networks for rural communities in Ventura County.

Access to high-speed internet helps drive economic opportunity for small businesses in those areas, Ditchfield said.

“It’s going to be a long build process that we’ll be gearing up for, but it’s exciting, because it’ll add more jobs and really bring hope to some of these areas in terms of economic growth.”