Note: A shorter version of this article appeared in the Times-Standard, The Redwood Times and the Humboldt Beacon.
Those of us who live along Humboldt Bay or other relatively densely populated areas may have become complacent with the stability and quality of our broadband connections. After all, we haven’t had a serious fiber line failure for nearly 3 years and getting access to DSL or cable is generally not a problem. But behind the scenes a small group of people continue to push for improved services especially for under and unserved areas of the North Coast. About 100 of those dedicated souls attended the 5th Broadband Forum held last week at Fortuna’s River Lodge.
Once again, citizens from Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity and Mendocino counties joined with State officials and industry representatives to assess the current condition of broadband service, to learn about what’s being worked on and to make plans for future improvements. As before, the major issues of concern continue to be redundant and alternate fiber routes, bringing broadband to more remote areas, and providing access to technology of any kind to less advantaged people in all parts of the region.
While the themes remained the same from past conferences, and some frustration was voiced over the overall failure of our region to secure any of the recently awarded Federal broadband grants, the overall tone was decidedly upbeat. Speaker after speaker offered evidence of real progress being made.
The following are some highlights from the conference. However, much more detail including the agenda and the presentations can be found at http://rredc.com/broadbaand.
State of Redundancy
Millions of dollars are being spread around the State through various sources. And while only a small fraction of that money is being used to benefit the North Coast at the moment, one crucial project partially funded by a grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). With 40% of the cost being funded by CASF, IP Networks is on track to complete a fiber line along the Highway 36 corridor fy summer of 2011. According to IP Network’s Mary-Lou Smulders, the line will provide an opportunity for local wireless company 101 Netlink to offer service to communities along that route. Additionally, at least two other service providers have access to both the current AT&T fiber and the new IP Networks line. This means if you are a subscriber to any of those service providers you will have true redundancy if one line goes down.
Details are still hard to come by such as who the other providers are and what the services might cost. But since the original fiber was completed in 2003, Humboldt County has been subject to multiple telecommunication failures and held back economically from the insecurity of our situation.
State of the State
Everything costs money. Bringing broadband to rural areas costs big money. Although our region has been overlooked by the current Federal programs, the State appears to be intent on continuing to invest in building up broadband infrastructure and some of that focus will definitely be on the North Coast. To that end, the Governor just signed 2 SB 1040 which extends and expands the CASF, increasing available funds to $225 million. A second bill, SB 1046 (Padilla), if signed will create a Broadband Council which will be staffed by representatives of several agencies already involved in various aspects of telecommunications including the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Emerging Technologies Fund (CETA), CASF and a representative from the office of the States’s Chief Information Officer. The goal would be to improve communications among the communications bureaucracy, I suppose.
State of the Region
Tribes from throughout the region were well-represented at the Forum. Tribal lands generally have very poor telecommunications infrastructure. So it was encouraging that spokespeople from the Yurok, Hoopa, and Karuk tribes provided encouraging reports of ongoing projects and planned projects that will help brings those areas into the digital age.
As with the tribes, incremental progress is being made in each of the four counties, either with actual project, policy changes, or with future plans. Redwood Telephone which hopes to build a fiber infrastructure to server premises within the region is continuing the pursuit of funding and, according to Soctt Joachim should be ready to begin building some time next year.
One policy highlight: The Humboldt County Planning Commission has approved the Telecommunications Element for the General Plan Update. This will be the first such element included in any county General Plan in the State and is the result of many hours of hard work by the Planning Commission and members of the community such as Connie Stewart, Sean McLaughlin, Tina Nerat and Mary Cruse.
State of Our Health
Telemedicine allows patients to connect with specialists over great distance by using broadband services. The quality of telemedicine services goes up with faster, more consistent broadband connections. Addressing this vital service (especially for rural areas) Frank Anderson spoke about multiple telemedicine clinics operating throughout the region. They will soon be installing 10 megabit circuits to greatly improve the quality of the sessions.
State of Technology
Several presentations offered new technologies that may affect how data is delivered and consumed. A few examples:
Suddenlink’s latest DOCSIS 3 promising much higher speed delivery to cable subscribers
Carlson Wireless’ devices designed to take advantage of the recently released “whitespaces” spectrum promises much more powerful and stable wireless delivery systems
An array of systems and hardware that monitor our premises, our family, our health presented by Aldea reminds us that all this technology is supposed to make our life easier safer, and fun
Thank you to all the people who are working so hard to keep the North Coast moving forward, whether it’s through building and deploying new technology, helping to shape better policies or finding the money to support our growth. If you would like to know more about these people consider visiting and joining the Redwood Technology Consortium.