Western Nevada County businesses and entrepreneurs who want to participate in the global economy have to rely on a patchwork of technologies and suppliers to make the connection.
Most of the Grass Valley-Nevada City-Penn Valley triangle has access to DSL (digital subscriber line), but many others who want high-speed Internet access are limited to conventional 56K dial-up service.
Fearing the county may get left behind in the global economy, the county Economic Resource Council has established a telecommunications resource team to encourage major suppliers like SBC Communications to speed up the telecommunications revolution while inviting others to join the fray.
Meanwhile, Comcast is beginning to replace 238 miles of one-way cable with two-way fiber optics that will give its 10,000 customers in the Grass Valley-Nevada City-Penn Valley triangle high-speed Internet access.
And several smaller companies are trying to elbow their way into the market:
• PacWest of Stockton is targeting small to medium-size businesses with T1 digital transmission links carrying voice and data services, and says it has developed “several warm leads.”
• Full Spectrum Internet Access of Grass Valley, which currently offers high speed dial-up service in the western county, will soon offer wireless service to residents of Banner Mountain and surrounding areas.
But the town of Truckee is way ahead of the rest of the county in state-of-the-art telecommunications, thanks to the Truckee Donner Public Utility District. The district will soon launch a fiber optic service to over 10,000 residential and 2,500 business customers.
Alan Harry, director of telecommunications for the district, acknowledges that the people who try to attract business and industry to the area are “delighted” with the prospect of high-speed telecommunications.
The limited availability of the capability for businesses in western Nevada County is the driving force behind creation of the ERC’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Resource Team. “If we can’t become a connected community, we can’t compete in the global economy,” said Russ Steele, chairman of the group.
People who work with businesses say the need is now.
“I’d say 90 percent of the people I show around to lease space or purchase commercial property ask if there’s DSL availability,” said Lock Richards, a senior investment adviser with Sperry Van Ness Highland Commercial real estate in Nevada City.
“Generally, people are very concerned about having broadband access. I think it’s a very necessary thing for businesses these days,” he said.
Steele’s team is working on four fronts to make that a reality:
• Define the potential broadband need in the west county to lure suppliers into the market;
• Push for approval of a countywide telecommunications policy that will encourage supplies “to bring the best available broadband technologies” to the area;
• Once the first two elements are in place, obtain grants to fund specific projects.;
• Define office, home and construction requirements, “insuring they are ready to accept and take advantage of the broadband telecommunications structure,” according to Steele.
Right now, the team is focusing considerable energy on getting SBC to expand DSL service beyond Grass Valley, Nevada City and Penn Valley. Steele said the team has met with SBC representatives on several occasions and that another meeting will take place in the near future.
SBC currently offers DSL service to 65 percent of the homes and businesses in Nevada City and 61 percent in Grass Valley, but not all of them are subscribers, said Heather Alexander, a spokeswoman for SBC Communications in Sacramento.
“We’re assessing that whole region and hoping to deploy some additional services,” she said, adding that the decision could come at the end of July.
“We look at a number of things,” Alexander said. “Part of that is population. It’s also the business community’s needs. Deploying DSL is really a large financial investment. Like any company, we want to make sure there’s a return on that investment.”
Comcast is following the cable TV industry trend by replacing its conventional cable installations with fiber optics technology. Susan Gonzales, senior director of communications for Comcast in Sacramento, said the upgrade should be completed by late fall.
The new technology will give residents of Grass Valley, Nevada City, Penn Valley and Lake Wildwood expanded channel options, high definition TV, video on demand and digital video recording.
Customers will also have access to high-speed Internet service that Gonzales said is three times faster than conventional DSL and up to 50 times faster than standard dial-up.
PacWest has its sights set on business users in the west county. The Stockton-based firm gets 80 percent of its business from NetZero and Earthlink, where it provides dial-up accounts for their customers, according to PacWest representative Rich O’Donnell.
The company has an interconnect agreement with SBC into western Nevada County, and is using that link to sell T1 services. O’Donnell said the firm can bundle voice and data to provide firms with high-speed Internet and point-to-point communications.
“There are a lot of businesses that need T1 services that can’t get them,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a very good demographic area for us because of what people are doing, especially in the technology world.
“We’re starting to get traction,” he added. “We’ve developed 13 warm leads and we have several proposals out right now.”
Full Spectrum Internet Access of Grass Valley, which runs Internet service provider TheUnion.net, provides Web site hosting and design, consulting, and high speed dial-up service to a customer base “in the low thousands,” said co-owner Aaron Rutledge.
But the firm will soon be offering high-speed wireless communication – 384K to 1.5 Mbps – from an antenna it’s erecting on Banner Mountain. Rutledge said the service will be available on all of Banner Mountain, Scotts Flat Lake, and parts of Cascade Shores and Cedar Ridge.
Rutledge believes there is pent-up demand for high-speed Internet service.
“We had a booth at the Home and Garden Show where we previewed what we are going to be doing,” he said. “Several hundred people signed a waiting list is just a couple of days, and since then, the phone has been ringing off the hook.”
Truckee businesses will soon have access to high-speed business Internet, telephone and security monitoring services carried over 200 miles of fiber optic cable being installed by the Truckee Donner Public Utility District. Harry said the district expects to have the system up and running by the first quarter of 2005.
The system “will provide competitive video and data services that will be sold by the district, and voice and security services that will be sold by a company that is leasing some bandwidth from us,” Harry said.
The district also owns a fiber optics line that stretches from Reno to Sacramento, mainly along Highway 80. The line will feed content to the Truckee area customers, but can also be tapped by other users.
“We have the ability to utilize that fiber,” Harry said. “I’ve had some discussions with some folks in western Nevada County about whether there is any way we could connect up.”
That may provide the ultimate solution for the west county, Steele said. “If we can’t get private industry to do it, we’ll have to consider a public entity.”
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