Public feedback wanted for Last Mile Broadband Grant applications
Proposals for the Nevada County Last Mile Broadband Grant are in, and now the public has the opportunity to provide input into which of the three projects aiming to bring broadband to Nevada County residents will get funding.
The $225,000 pilot grant was established last year after the county contracted with the Sierra Business Council to solicit projects that would work for Nevada County, whose broadband strategy calls for a patchwork approach of varied solutions to deal with the topography and low-density that make traditional internet providers unable or unwilling to service the area.
“For a pilot program that had a relatively short time frame, we are pleased with the applications that came in,” Sierra Business Council program manager Chelsea Walterscheid said. “They are three very different projects, confirming the idea that we will need a variety of technologies and projects to successfully connect residents and businesses in Nevada County.”
Public comment on the proposals will close Jan. 17, and business council recommendations will be announced Jan. 21.
Two applicants proposed projects in western Nevada County while internet service provider Exwire is seeking $53,000 in funding to bring fixed wireless internet to about 100 customers in the Truckee area.
Both applicants for western Nevada County, Michael Anderson for Northern Sierra Fiber Broadband Co-op and Andrew Wilkinson for Nevada County Fiber Inc., previously worked with Spiral Internet as chief information officer and chief financial officer, respectively.
On Wednesday, the Nevada City Council gave its support to the cooperative’s plan. However, it’s the Board of Supervisors that will decide which project, or projects, receives funding. The grant money could be split between applicants.
“I think we could provide a letter support in the future if he needs it for anything ,” Nevada City Manager Catrina Olson said at the meeting.
Once the business council scores the applications, its recommendations will go to county staff. The staff will place the awarding of the grant on the supervisors’ agenda for approval, according to Walterscheid.
NEVADA COUNTY FIBER
Nevada County Fiber is asking for $223,889 for a proposal that would bring underground fiber optics with a 100-megabyte-per-second starting speed to about 60 homes in the Red Dog/Banner Quaker Hill Road area during the project’s first phase.
The project timeline estimates the homes will be online by July 2021, and includes some flexibility that allows the proposal to be scaled down to an initial 20-home installation for $125,000, if the full funding isn’t available.
The proposal also includes public safety pods that would provide real-time monitoring of evacuation routes in the area and potentially remotely deploy Wi-Fi in emergency situations.
“I think it would be easier for the county to fund more projects like this if we can tie it to public safety and economic development,” Wilkinson said. “That to me would be the big win-win.”
Wilkinson said he started the project because he lives and has had to deal with limited internet availability, with his teenage children asking why they have to live “in the middle of the forest.”
“The reason why I’m doing this is because I was faced with a choice: I either move or I fix broadband in my area,” Wilkinson said. “It had gotten that black-and-white for me. If we don’t do something people are not going to want to live here.”
Northern Sierra Fire Broadband Co-Op
Anderson’s plan asks for $25,000 to install underground broadband infrastructure to about 15 under-served businesses and community institutions, with the potential to reach up to 175 businesses and households after approved residential and business developments like The Grove are fully built out. The project would serve the area west of Zion Street, south of Reward Street and northeast of Providence Mind Road in Nevada City. The application timeline estimates the project could begin this fall and be completed by summer 2021.
According to Anderson, the utility would be structured as a cooperative, meaning the physical fiber infrastructure would be democratically controlled by the co-op while the operations and services on top of that layer would be open to the free market, a move he said is key to defeating telecom monopolies.
“Right now the competition is at the transport level, which is silly,” Anderson said. “It’s definitely anti-competitive, it’s not a free market, it’s a gamed system. That’s the whole point: making sure the transport layer is democratically controlled.”
Anderson said the co-op would model their project on the Ammon, Idaho, open access network, which slowly connected the city-owned fiber network to customers in a methodical way and allowed the venture to sustain profitability.
“Open access is the norm in Asia and Europe where it’s treated as public infrastructure,” Anderson said. “People in the United States realize that they don’t have the kind of broadband as people in other parts of the world.”
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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