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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

“People need broadband”: Internet projects are underway or in preparation, but some are concerned about their closed structure

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There are two projects underway in western Nevada to bring stronger Internet to select homes and businesses.

The first is a $ 27 million Bright Fiber project that connects 2,000 families in six areas along Highway 174 – from Idaho Maryland to Chicago Park – to high-speed Internet. The second is managed by Nevada County Fiber Inc., using the county’s Last Mile broadband program to bring underground optical fiber to 25 homes and businesses in the Red Dog and Banner Quaker Hill Road areas.

But other projects are potentially in the pipeline.

In May, Nevada Fiber County, Exwire, Inc. (now Oasis Broadband) and Race Communications filed for a California Advanced Service Fund grant to assist Nevada County residents in various areas. Nevada County Fiber hopes to serve up to 50 eligible California Advanced Service Fund customers in the Buckeye Road and Banner Quaker Hill Road areas. Broadband Oasis has applied for a grant to serve residents in Kingswood West in the North Tahoe area, and Race Communications has applied for a project called Gigafy Nevada City, which plans to provide last mile broadband for up to 499 customers.

But some are concerned that the process by which these projects take place will ultimately not achieve the county’s goals to ensure the availability, convenience and adequacy of the Internet..

“The reality is that historic telecommunication service providers that have little incentive to connect low-density rural communities dominate these programs,” says the 2019 Nevada broadband strategy report. “Experience with both programs it was made of delayed project times, litigation and frustration “.

Andrew Wilkinson, owner of Nevada County Fiber, understands this skepticism. He believes it is important to invest money in an underground fiber cable project that works and cuts costs before creating a community-owned operation.

“He has to start crawling first, then walk, then run,” he said.

Although he does not yet have a timeline, Wilkinson, who claimed to be collaborating with the Sierra Business Council, believes it is important to show county residents that fiber connectivity is possible and convenient before moving on to a controlled and democratic-owned operation. .

“I think this is a utility,” he said. “People need broadband.”

Either way, Wilkinson said he will demonstrate to the community not for what he says but for what he does with his company’s upcoming plans. If they have to take off, they will present them to the community to discuss democratic control and provide universal and convenient access.

OASIS

Devin Koch, president of Oasis Broadband, said that while community-owned broadband programs offer positive results, namely a trend towards economic accessibility, private entities can offer several benefits to a community.

“When a commercial company is involved, like any other company, we have to abide by the laws, follow the standards and use our money to do it – not much government is involved, so if we think it’s a good investment, we have control over how things are managed, “he said.

“The county funding model has worked very well,” said Koch, referring to the county’s broadband grants.

According to Koch, this was due in part to the fact that the parties involved had seen the state subsidy program suffer and produce poor results.

“The Nevada county program has certainly provided a low and flexible way for (Internet service providers), not community broadband consortia, to get funding and make progress,” he said.

Koch said that a problem with some proposals for community broadband programs is that it can be difficult for non-commercial entities to assess an adequate framework for the company to provide services.

“Having a business entity behind us, drawing up financial data and having a long operational history: in our case they know who they are working with and have seen us enlighten many communities with services over the past 18 years,” he said.

Noting that some service providers are currently struggling, particularly in rural areas, to provide basic Internet connectivity as demand for work from home has suddenly increased with COVID-19, Koch said: “What the community has need at the moment are players who are flexible, can be built as quickly as it can be done with wireless and is building for the future. “

He said the wireless and fiber-based technology that Oasis Broadband uses offers greater flexibility for sudden changes in demand.

FREE ACCESS

Harvard law professor Susan Crawford believes that the reason why rural areas do not yet have strong and reliable Internet is due to the lack of regulation on privately controlled telecommunications companies.

“The completely deregulated private companies we depend on for cable communications have systematically divided the markets, avoided competition and established monopolies in their geographic footprints,” he writes in his 2018 book “Fibers”. “The results are terrible: very expensive but second-rate data services, mainly from local cable monopolists, in richer neighborhoods; the vast majority of Americans are unable to purchase a fiber optic subscription at any price; and many Americans, especially in rural and poorer areas, have completely left behind. “

Spaces in the United States and around the world, which have provided strong economic and universal access to the Internet, are the place where the service is treated as a utility and managed by a democratically owned and owned entity through a cooperative or government agency, he says.

Kristin York, vice president of corporate innovation for the Sierra Business Council, said her organization shares many of Crawford’s concerns.

“We are very skeptical of the large incumbent broadband companies that provide popular Internet services to rural communities such as Nevada County,” he wrote in an email. “Their business models are focused on one thing and one thing only: huge profits. These are largely publicly owned companies responsible for their share price. The low density of rural communities simply does not allow them to invest in broadband infrastructure because reimbursement does not meet their internal hurdle rates. Local broadband providers have been much more sensitive to the specific needs of the county. “

York, like Andrew Wilkinson, also appreciates the open access cooperative model in which one layer of transport – the fiber cable – is democratically owned and operated while other companies compete to provide services.

“Open access models are why you can go to Europe, or literally any other country in the world, and get fast, free Internet,” he wrote. “It is based on an open access model with public funding.”

Michael Anderson – a co-owner of Clientworks Inc., former information manager of Bright Fiber Network and founder of the Northern Sierra Fiber Broadband Cooperative – is also a supporter of the open access model, managed by local cooperatives, especially because when people are subject to limited limits for Internet service, others nearby are left to be desired.

“The problem is always’ Why did you stop on that road? I’m a road over and I don’t have it, “he said.

Cooperative models, Anderson said, resolve this tension because they offer needs-based solutions in which anyone, within a reasonable geographic area, can become a member and receive prompt and reasonably priced service. In other words, these cooperatives will build projects, but would not be bound by grant requirements to cover a particular city or county region.

Some neighboring municipalities are working to try to implement a similar plan. In February, Redding developed a broadband master plan for 2020 it intended to increase fiber optic Internet access, in particular with the hope of introducing a new public utility service owned by fiber optic Internet. According to a city survey, when considering Internet service, most residents believe that the cost, speed and choice of provider are the most important.

THE FUTURE OF THE BRAND

As some recognize, Internet access in the United States is generally much slower and more expensive than most other advanced countries. According to The Next System Project, a Democratic collaborator, nearly 133 million Americans have no Internet connection speeds of at least 250 megabits per second.

Anderson, Crawford, Wilkinson and others have said that much of this problem stems from the prevention of democratically controlled broadband.

As of May, at least 22 states have been barred from creating municipal broadband. Some members of Congress are working to overturn this reality, according to InTheseTimes.com. In addition, the state and the Federal Communications Commission have made connectivity more of a priority – having established a connectivity rate of not less than 98% for all families by 2022.

Some local legislators are still unable to circumvent the power that large telecommunications companies exercise over broadband and want more opportunities provided by the state legislature to allow local organizations to manage their projects.

“It is now clearly more (than one) imperative,” said Heidi Hall, Nevada District 1 supervisor, in May. “We are working from home, the children are doing their studies from home. We need a lot more here. “

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219. Staff writer Victoria Penate helped write the report.

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