While the massive construction work over Highway 20/49 at Dorsey Drive may be the most prominent roadwork around Nevada County, another project has been snaking its way through Grass Valley and Nevada City and bringing high-speed broadband Internet with it.
“Anytime there is fiber (optic cable) involved, it is there to benefit that area, and that is what I think it will do in the near future,” said Randy White, installer MP Nexlevel’s project manager.
The lack of high-speed Internet access is frequently cited by businesses and public officials as a key regional encumbrance to economic growth and vitality. In fact, its absence was cited as the single largest issue by business owners in western Nevada County in a 2011 survey conducted by the Economic Resource Council.
“Without broadband — and fiber in particular — Nevada County will look like ‘Little House on the Prairie’ in a ‘Jetsons’ world,” said Robert Trent, founder of Sierra Commons, a business-fostering nonprofit.
Currently, the only fiber optic cables that traverse the region are owned by large Internet service providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, according to John Paul of Spiral Internet, a Nevada City-based independent ISP.
Once fiber optic is up and running initially at select public facilities, Internet speeds of 1 gigabyte per second will be available, which is equivalent to 1,000 megabytes per second, compared to the 6 megabytes per second that the average household in western Nevada County receives.
“They wanted to connect to public buildings, so the goal was to hit all the schools, public buildings and libraries,” said Trisha Tillotson, a city of Grass Valley civil engineer.
For the last 12 months, White said MP Nexlevel workers have placed fiber optic cable into the ground from Nevada City all the way to the Bear River, the southern border of Nevada County.
“A lot of it has been in the county areas, and we are just now getting into the city areas,” he said.
The project stems from the February 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enactment, which has since doled out $803 billion nationwide aimed at laying the foundation for long-term economic growth and development.
One of the pillars of the ARRA is to provide access to broadband services, which will increase economic development. The legislation allocated $7.2 billion dollars of stimulus funds to increase broadband network access, particularly in rural and underserved and unserved areas.
In California, 18 counties were pegged for broadband access, including Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, Sutter and Yuba counties.
The project involves building, operating and maintaining a fiber optic network infrastructure that traverses 1,750 miles of California’s Central Valley and connects 19 offices of education, 14 community colleges, three California State University campuses, 20 county/main libraries and seven public safety sites.
In Nevada County, the cable stems from the main headquarters of the county government at the Eric Rood Administrative Center, located at 950 Maidu Ave. on the outskirts of Nevada City, and makes its way through the downtown historic district to tap into Nevada City Hall.
From there, it heads across the Pine Street Bridge, where Vast Networks’ installers worked Tuesday.
In Grass Valley, the cable hits Nevada Union High School and Sierra College and makes its way to downtown Grass Valley and then toward Highway 174, White said.
“It’s happening and it’s five years in the making,” said Nevada City Manager David Brennan.
The bulk of the remaining installation work centers around downtown Grass Valley, White said. Work should wrap up in Nevada City by the end of the week and hopefully progress to completion in Grass Valley before Christmas, he said.
But installation completion does not equate to flipping the switch on giving Grass Valley, Nevada City and Nevada County its long desired high-speed Internet access, White said.
“They are just putting in the main line. They are not connecting anybody at this point,” Tillotson noted. “That is the next step as I understand.”
Representatives of Vast Network, a consortium of rural California-based telephone companies overseeing the 18-county installation, could not be reached Tuesday to determine when high-speed Internet will be online.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.