Other Voices: A tale of two highways shows need for info | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: A tale of two highways shows need for info

A recent poll has shown that locals favor the widening of highway 49 over the construction of the Dorsey interchange.

Unfortunately there is little chance of achieving this goal. The legislature, dominated first by Southern California, and second by Democrats, is not likely to finance a very expensive transportation project in a rural, northern, Republican county.

But there is a highway that might be widened that wouldn’t cost the state a penny, and that is the information highway.

Assembly Bill 2987 is an effort, promoted by AT&T and Verizon, to remove local control over widening the information highway through the installation of broadband optical fiber and cable and give that power to the state, specifically the State Department of Corporations.

The Union recently reported the strong position against this legislation taken by the City of Grass Valley. But the County has an equally important stake in this issue.

James Keene, executive director of the California Associations of Counties (not to be confused with Rick Keene, our representative to the state Assembly who, perversely, supported 2987 in committee) says: “The bill allows video service providers to decide who gets their best services and when those services will be delivered. Rural communities and lower income communities, which often struggle under the current process to find service providers, will be left behind. The percentage of households with high speed Internet access is dropping in the United States in comparison to other industrialized nations. We need to expand access, not just engender a price war over existing customers.”

As a beneficiary of rural electrification, I support rural broadbanding.

The benefits will shortly become a vital component of the digital age. AT&T has big plans for your home: High Definition TV, broadband computer access and, of course, your telephone service. Just as property values currently depend on access to electricity, they will also become dependant on access to this coming technology. I am grateful to Supervisor (Nate) Beason for taking the initiative in looking after the county’s interest in this matter.

Tasks that are now performed using software residing on your computer will soon be available as Web-based software. For example, Google has just acquired Writely, a Web-based word processor. Web-based newspapers are including more and more video and sound. You will not only be able to read movie reviews but see and hear movie previews. All this Web-based software will require broadband to be truly useful. Your computer will become merely an access channel to the Web. In that world, a 56k modem connection will require the patience of a spider.

Another small benefit to rural broadband would be a decrease in commuter traffic. If the tens of thousands of future residents of undeveloped parcels in rural Nevada County find work in home occupations using broadband to communicate their services to the world, they will not be commuting to Grass Valley or Nevada City, or, God forbid, to the valley on highway 49.

My neighbor is a graphic artist working with video files. These files are huge. She needs to commute to the city to transmit them. Broadband in the home will cut down on local traffic, while reducing our dependence on foreign oil and our contribution to greenhouse gases. It isn’t often that one has a chance to promote one’s self-interest while providing a civic benefit.

I might also mention, in regard to the issue of rural access to broadband, that the Nevada County Library now provides high speed, wireless Internet access. My thanks to the Library, the County IS department, and, I am proud to say, the Lake Vera/Round Mt. Neighborhood Association for donating funds to the library for the purchase of a Wi-Fi router.

Jim Hurley is a Nevada County resident.

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