Broadband Back in Focus

Those of us who already have high speed access have a tendency to get complacent about broadband issues until the next fiber break happens. But some have been working diligently to find ways to improve our telecommunications infrastructure, not waiting for the next disaster and knowing many areas of the region remain un-served or under served. In one fell swoop, one project may solve many of these issues. The California Public Utilities Commission appears prepared to award over $7 million to a company called Broadband Associates through the California Advanced Services Fund to build a second fiber line from I – 5 to Eureka along the Highway 299 corridor.

Other proposed projects such as the IP Networks was working on in conjunction with PG&E have not come to fruition. That project would have used PG&E towers closer to much less populated Highway 36 corridor and, as far as I know made no provisions for access point along the way. The 299 route is more difficult and more expensive but the project includes access for wireless providers to service communities from Blue Lake to Weaverville.

There has been some strong opinions expressed on the RTC mailing list about the wisdom and viability of this project and why we haven’t heard much about it until just now. I think many of the concerns over transparency and accountability should be address to the CPUC itself.

Yesterday I spoke with Michael Brinskele, CEO of Broadband Associates about their proposal. Michael has had an interest in our region for quite a while. He attended the last Broadband Forum and has been in discussion with CENIC and people from Redwood Coast Connect. Their application for the CASF funds has come after looking carefully at the region’s issues and opportunities.

From our conversation I felt he is quite aware of the challenges such a project holds both for the build itself and its economic viability. He believes Broadband Associates has a strong business plan to make this work.  However, since there is still a great deal of planning to do before the February 20 deadline they are purposively not making any public noise about this project in order to not raise expectations or over promise. On the other hand he is pleased there is great interest in this project and has expressed to me an openness to any questions or concerns from people who would like to learn more.  Those questions can be addressed to 299 Fiber Project Area

CBG Areas

Alternate Fiber Coming Soon

The biggest news at Broadband Forum IV so far was just announced by Gregg Foster of Lost Coast Communications (owners of KHUM, KSLG and the Point). Apparently a company called IP Networks plans to have an alternate fiber line completed by the 1st quarter of 2009. IP Networks partners with PG&E for these kinds of things and it looks like the line will use the PG&E path east-west. PG&E has had a big interest in getting this done for their own purposes, but the new fiber will also sell space wholesale to other providers such as Suddenlink. This is great news!

Possible Alternate Fiber Solution Presentation

The Redwood Technology Consortium has invited Rich Ryan, CEO of Hunter Communications from Southern Oregon to speak at the monthly meeting tomorrow, March 13 at 5:30 PM. Ryan has built fiber networks in Oregon and is very interested in finding solutions for the North Coast.

Topics discussed will include:

* Hunter Communications background and current composition

* Development of fiber networks and the implementation of the Rural and
Metropolitan Area Network in Southern Oregon

* Vision for the Northern California Coastal Region and what a
regional fiber network could mean for businesses, municipalities and
other groups

* Hunter’s Plan for our region and how it fits in the “big picture”

Hunter Communications’ formed a creative public-private partnership model that leveraged pre-existing, school budgeted telecommunications funds to build a network infrastructure capable of handling regional demands, and currently servicing over 90 sites. Hunter’s efforts have resulted in unprecedented new communications and connectivity resources for a number of previously disregarded rural communities.

The meeting this month is at the Humboldt Area Foundation Conference Room. 373 Indianola Rd., Bayside.

Severed Cable Cuts Off India and Middle East

A cable (perhaps several) cut by one or more ships anchored off Egypt in the Mediterranean has reduced Internet access in to India and other countries in the Middle East to a crawl. The quote in the article from the Register says the services may be out for 10-15 days. With so much work being outsourced to places like India, this could really cause some havoc. We have connections with a company in India and we haven’t heard from them in 2 days. Fortunately, the work isn’t crucial or too time sensitive.

It’s just another reminder that stuff happens and we need to do everything we can locally to protect our stuff from the stuff that happens. More and more of our economy, education, government services, and health care are becoming dependent on reliable broadband service and connections to the world.

Lots of Outrage on the Fiber Outage

The Redwood Technology Consortium maintains a discussion mailing list that anyone can subscribe to whether you’re a member of RTC or not. Since the latest fiber outage there has been lots of heated discussion on the list, many people are saying, it’s about time we get this (alternate, redundant, ok second) fiber line built. What’s the hold up? Let’s “git ‘er done!” These are all great sentiments. But in fact the RTC has been advocating and pushing for this second fiber line since the first one finally got completed. Back then the possibility of four outages Fiber Optic Cablein a year seemed remote. I can remember an AT&T representative at the first Broadband Forum saying that in spite of a dozen close calls, an actual break was unlikely. And if by some chance something did happen they had their microwave towers as back up. “Ahem”. So much for corporate assurances.

So it’s great that there seems to finally be more people energetically speaking up about how the telecommunications infrastructure needs to be upgraded for economic stability, growth and overall public safety. Even Rob Arkley is busy posting to the RTC list and rousing the rabble.

But channeling the energy engendered by this latest fiber outage remains elusive. It’s a multi-million dollar project that no one is going to invest in unless there’s some reasonable expectation of a return. Still, some people are working on it. Perhaps public officials can be pressured (encouraged?) to support this private effort through a streamlined regulatory environment, low cost loans, etc.

In the meantime an established wireless provider from southern Humboldt is planning on expanding to cover more of the county. It’s a temporary solution and only one for those who can afford to pay two ISPs simultaneously in case one goes down. But if they can pull it off, and some can take advantage of it, more power to them.