Nevada County supervisors hear about patchwork approach to broadband | TheUnion.com

Nevada County supervisors hear about patchwork approach to broadband

John Orona
Staff Writer

Nevada County residents hoping for high speed internet got an update Tuesday when the Sierra Business Council unveiled its road map for bringing broadband here.

The Nevada County Broadband Strategy was presented to the Board of Supervisors by the business council’s program manager Chelsea Waltersheid, who emphasized the importance of bringing the internet policy front and center going forward.

“We regard other things like water and electricity as vital to our livelihood, and it’s time to step up and consider broadband essential,” Waltersheid said.

The policy document outlined the challenges the county faces and concluded its obstacles could only be overcome through a multifaceted “patchwork” approach that combines several different strategies and focuses primarily on policy within the county’s control.

“The same topography that brought Nevada County great wealth during the Gold Rush is now impeding the county’s broadband connectivity,” the report read. “The hard rock beneath the towns is difficult and expensive to dig through. Dense forests obstruct the line-of-site needed for wireless technology. And the rural nature of the county’s landscape doesn’t support the population density needed to show return on investment for most broadband projects.”

According to the strategy, the county would look to leverage existing fiber infrastructure, create custom micro mesh networks and partner with other local agencies for wireless opportunities to meet the needs of county residents, rather than relying on federal grants and programs.

“Hardly anything has been done on the federal level to help our rural areas. It’s unbelievable that something so incredibly important to our economy has been left for us at the county and for individuals to do,” Supervisor Heidi Hall said. “We are so far back behind we have to take a leap forward and we’re going to need to stitch a couple of these ideas together.”

One project on the horizon is Race Communications’ plan to bring high speed internet to almost 2,000 homes along Highway 174. In January officials said they’d targeted May 2020 as the project’s completion date.

Strategy

The plan calls for first codifying the importance of broadband into the county’s policy and planning documents. The strategy suggests changes like appointing a broadband leader from management staff to coordinate implementation of policy efforts. That would ensure continuity as the makeup of the board changes.

Other suggestions for codifying the importance of broadband include creating a database to streamline infrastructure deployment and mandating new housing projects include state-of-the-art broadband infrastructure.

The county’s broadband strategy includes prioritizing certain areas based on business and residential density, existing services, proximity to infrastructure and comparative costs. The plan suggested Willow Valley Road, Deer Creek, Newtown Road, Combie/Wolf Roads, Sherwood Forest and Donner Summit as areas of priority. Those areas will require feasibility assessments before identifying funding sources for them as next steps.

One leg of the strategy that’s already taking shape is the county’s focus on economic development through broadband rollout, such as its $225,000 last-mile broadband grant pilot program that would incentivize service providers to create infrastructure for broadband connectivity.

The strategy also points to the Beckville Network as a limited success story from which to draw lessons. The network is a nonprofit corporation created by about a dozen Nevada County residents to supply their neighborhood with internet access after the Vast network informed them they would only provide service to business customers. The network serves about 15 homes with no data or bandwidth caps for $70 a month.

According to Hall and Waltersheid, when the group first formed they had to sneak around and were secretive about their plans because they weren’t sure if they were breaking municipal codes or if the county would shut down their project.

Now they are seen as a model, according to Waltersheid, and fostering that kind of community innovation will be key to turning frustration at the lack of internet options into useful action.

“It’s important we bring in all our stakeholders,” Waltersheid said. “Broadband brings out emotions as we all know in this county.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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