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Pandemic highlights need for high-speed internet in Nevada County

John Orona
Staff Writer
The point of presence — what Race Communications Vice President Jim Miller calls the brains of the network — being installed at the Nevada County Airport earlier this year.
Submitted to The Union | Submitted Photo

With the response to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to learn, connect with one another and live online more frequently, the importance of high-speed internet connectivity has been highlighted across Nevada County.

As critical infrastructure, two projects underway to bring fiber internet to the county are continuing to develop, though they’ve faced some challenges navigating during the pandemic.

After initially estimating a May implementation date, the Bright Fiber project, a $27 million effort that aims to connect nearly 2,000 households in six zones along Highway 174 — roughly from Idaho Maryland Road to Chicago Park — is expected to complete construction of its infrastructure by the end of the year.

The original project initially called for three stages, of which this is the first. Race has said it would consider future stages, if customer interest exists.

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“We anticipated turning on our first customers in Zone 1 this month. Everyone is going to get it, but it takes time,” Race Communications Vice President of Sales Jim Miller said. “We’ve done this up and done the state and we’ve completed every project in front of us. This pandemic has not stopped us.”

Crews from Race Communications, which acquired the Bright Fiber project last year, are working on infrastructure construction in Zones One and Two, and in January installed the point of presence (POP) at the Nevada County Airport. Testing and home installation phases will follow.

Miller said while the company is eager to complete construction, one challenge has been coordinating and timing permits across multiple agencies while the pandemic limits the capacity for some of those services.

“It’s affecting the other entities that we work with, public utilities, state, departments for permitting and so forth,” Miller said. “A process that normally takes 90 days now is kind of in an unknown time frame of how long it takes as everyone adjusts to new ways of doing business.”

Once the project’s grant funding is used — $16 million out of the total $27 million — Race said it will consider funding extensions of the project itself.

The zones will not be completed or turned on in numerical order.

Nevada County Fiber

In February, Nevada County Fiber Inc. was awarded $124,209 as part of the county’s Last Mile Broadband pilot grant to bring underground fiber optics to about 25 homes and businesses in multiple phases to the Red Dog/Banner Quaker Hill Road area.

The grant funded the first phase of the project and could provide additional funding in the future based on its success.

Nevada County Fiber President Andrew Wilkinson said agreements for the project are expected to be finalized this month, and first customers could be connected in just a few months.

“I’m expecting the first homes to start to be connected by the early part of the summer,” Wilkinson said. “The initial grant funding will allow me to get 16 people connected and I hope to get the bulk of that completed by the end of the year.”

Wilkinson said he would apply for state grant funding in May that could provide the money to continue connecting more homes in subsequent phases.

“This was important six weeks ago and it’s just become 10 times more important now with people staying at home,” Wilkinson said.

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


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