At long last there is some movement on various levels, grassroots to government, toward providing wireless networks in some communities, building alternative fiber to the region, and strategic telecommunications planning. I’ll start with the communities where wireless network efforts are unfolding. Of course if you can’t wait for citywide wireless in your area you can always check out the growing list of hotspots posted to Humboldt Hotspots.

The County recently initiated a project for bringing broadband to Orick. Orick sits in a no man’s land between 2 phone companies, neither of which are interested in providing DSL. And cable will be long in coming. There apparently is plenty of interest in broadband access in Orick. Three companies (Neratech in Eureka, Planwest Partners in Arcata and Sparling from Portland) are working together to create a business plan that will make the case for a viable wireless network for the community. It’s a first and necessary step that should be delivered this Fall. The hope is that the plan will encourage a company to provide service to the area. If successful, the project could provide a model for other rural, underservered areas.

The Airport
Many airports now offer free or fee based wireless access. The Arcata/Eureka airport is now working with the Redwood Technology Consortium to create a wireless hotspot at the terminal. This will be a great boon for travelers stranded due to weather or security delays.

Some members of the city council have been pushing for the development of a wireless network for the downtown area. Currently, though, the City is looking at a private network to support city services. According to councilmember Rick Pitino, there is some concern that offering a public wireless network would conflict with or be redundant to many existing hotspots.

Other grassroots efforts are underway, though. Some businesses are interested in offering unused bandwidth that could provide the backhaul for a wireless network.

Meanwhile if you are a student at Humboldt State University, you have access to a pretty extensive wireless network on campus.

The City of Eureka is hoping to invest in a feasibility study for implementing a citywide wireless mesh network. RTC has had discussion with city officials about the steps needed for building and maintain a network. The initial direction, like in Arcata would be to improve efficiencies in City communication and services, but the network could easiy be extended to the public. Given the slow pace of things (the funds for the study haven’t even been allocated yet) it could be years before anything concrete happens. We (RTC) have also proposed helping the city install wireless hotspots in various city owned properties such as the Wharfinger Building and the Adorni Center. This interim step would be inexpensive and relatively easy to maintain. So far, even this idea has not gained much traction.

Not waiting for the slow turning wheels of bureaucracy, a lose-knit group of volunteers are about to install a three node wireless network for Old Town. This is being put together with inexpensive hardware and open source software. I will post here when the network is launched.

Some neighborhoods in Fortuna already have small wireless access networks. I understand a private company is working on a network for the downtown area, but I have yet to learn any details as to when it might roll out, what area it will cover and what it might cost, if anything, to access.

County and Region
Redwood Region Rural Action, a coalition of various organizations and power players (Humboldt Area Foundation, Humboldt State University, RTC, Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, Arcata Economic Development Commission, North Coast Small Business Development Center, Connie Stewart,aide to State Rep. Patty Berg) is looking toward the development of a coounty wide telecommunications planning committee. The idea would be to bring together representatives of local and county entities to develop strategic plans and coordinate efforts on broadband and wirless efforts. This would work in some way similarly to the Humboldt County Association of Governments which has a mandate to coordinate on transportation issues.

RCRA which works in a wider regional arena would like to have similar entities established in the counties of Trinity, Del Norte and Mendocino. An overaching committee of representatives from all four counties would enable the entire region to make long term strategic plans in telecommunications, save cost on economy of scale and have a louder voice at the state level.

Finally, RCRA is close to hiring a consultant to develop a business plan for building an alternate fiber route running east/west that would serve the county and providing backup to the single fiber line (running north/south) as well as much needed competition with AT&T.