Digital divide alive and well in Nevada County
March 4, 2014
In response to the Feb. 27 article in The Union titled, "High-speed Internet linked to line of sight," as a home-based website developer since 1993, I welcome your reporting on the appalling lack of competitive broadband Internet access for residents of Nevada County.
It is hard to accept that home-based businesses, telecommuters, children, parents and seniors are actually bound to dial-up or low quality satellite service, while at our doorstep is a fiber optic infrastructure that goes unused throughout this county.
Having attended Sierra Economic Development Corporation Gold Country Broadband Consortium meetings, I have witnessed firsthand, much like the reporting shared, the same story told over and over again. Nevada County residents say, "We don't have high speed Internet access."
In a community meeting for Willaura Acres last spring where SEDCorp. and Smarter Broadband representatives spoke, we were told that this is the only vendor for your area that is capable of providing high speed Internet access at this time. Unfortunately, similar to what the Peardale/Chicago Park residents heard, we were informed that they cannot provide access to all homes due to not having "line of sight" signals to all homes.
The untold story that is not critically addressed is that fiber optic cable has been installed throughout this county by AT&T and it goes unused.
Since this meeting, those in attendance, and some who could not make it to the meeting, continue to ask me about whether high speed will ever happen in this area.
One person, a painting contractor, contacted me recently asking if there was any progress on getting high speed Internet access. He, like many others in Nevada County, is self employed and works from his home.
He stated, "My customers ask me to send them a proposal by email or post it on my website. Unfortunately, my only option here is dial-up. I can't receive or send large files without the file either disconnecting during the transfer or waiting for far too long."
In fact, he said, "For my daughter's homework assignments, we need to go to a local coffee house in the evenings to upload her assignments."
The untold story that is not critically addressed is that fiber optic cable has been installed throughout this county by AT&T and it goes unused. Fiber optic lines are within 30 yards of my property. They were installed along Lime Kiln Road around 2006. This same story in other areas of Nevada County is told over and over again by those who attend the "Broadband is Coming!" meetings. People ask, "We have fiber optic cable nearby; why can't we have access?"
This fiber optic infrastructure is installed on publicly owned property. Yet AT&T will not connect service to areas that it determines are unprofitable. Our fiber optic installation along Lime Kiln Road is supposedly used to service schools and libraries. The public school is now closed, and there are no libraries.
Perhaps one solution to this incredulous lack of Internet access for rural residents, now and in the far too distant future, is to create a community coalition willing to lobby state and federal legislators and the Public Utilities Commission to address this need. Either AT&T provides access or competitor telecommunications companies, local or global, be allowed to provide high-speed Internet service using the existing fiber optic installations.
For better or worse, our economic, educational, social and medical well-being continue to become more dependent on high speed Internet access.
Bill Jacobson lives in Grass Valley.
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