Our View: A future that involves Bright Fiber brings questions | TheUnion.com

Our View: A future that involves Bright Fiber brings questions

The Union Editorial Board

Most everyone in Nevada County wants a Bright Fiber future.

It looks like we’ll get it, just not how we thought.

Bright Fiber — the local company that secured almost $17 million in state funds to install a fiber optic network — is being sold to Race Communications. The reason: Bright Fiber couldn’t raise some $12 million in private funding to secure the grant from the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

It’s been a few weeks since our community learned that information. John Paul, CEO of Bright Fiber, had been mum for awhile. Plenty of folks paid $119, their first month’s payment, and kept waiting for their gigabit internet connection to appear. What they mostly got in return was silence.

Those who paid their money will need to keep waiting, as will the rest of us, but at least there’s now some fiber at the end of the tunnel.

Paul has taken some knocks over this situation. There are likely more to come from various corners of the county.

That’s expected. Any entrepreneur should anticipate judgment when plans go south.

However, Paul deserves credit for this project. He may no longer steer the ship, but without him it’s likely no ship would exist.

If this project pans out, hundreds, maybe thousands of Nevada County residents will gain access to high-speed internet.

However, the direction this project has taken over the past several months leaves plenty of questions.

Semantics aside, the grant enabling this project comes from public funds. Telecommunications companies collect a surcharge from our phone bills, money that goes to the California Advanced Services Fund. The utilities commission uses those funds for grants, including the money for the Bright Fiber project.

A tax by any other name is still a tax.

This isn’t merely Race Communications buying Bright Fiber. What’s being bought in this example is access to the public utilities grant.

The inclusion of public money in this project demands transparency and oversight, both of which appear lacking at this point.

Case in point: There was no requirement to publicize a 20-day period to object to the sale because Bright Fiber technically has no customers. You’d think the powers-that-be would want the public to know about a potentially game-changing project that could permanently alter the face of Nevada County.

You’d also think the buyer and seller would be more open about the terms of the sale. Again, we’re not talking about a private transaction between two business owners. Our money, some $16.2 million of it, is part of this deal.

Let’s hear the details. We’re owed them.

This isn’t just about a connection to high-speed internet in a rural California county. This project could affect job creation and housing. That, in turn, would affect schools and public safety.

Currently the project is in Phase I, focused along Highway 174. Will we ever get to Phases II and III? Will project leaders plan wisely for efficient and cost effective future expansion?

We believe our elected officials need to step up and help answer those questions.

Local government needs to take a role in this project. It should create a vision statement — a plan we follow that will carry us successfully into a future we build for ourselves, not one we stumble into.

This fiber optic network will bring change to this county. If we want to guide that change, we need a long-term vision enacted by our elected leaders.

And together we can step into a Bright future.

Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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