ATCAA role in local Broadband expansion significant

A recent column in the Sierra Mountain Times (SMT) by my friend and uber computer and Internet wizard Marv Dealy about ATCAA’s role in expanding Broadband locally prompted a response from me. Here it is in its entirety. 

Dear Thomas (SMT Editor) and Marv,

I just finished reading the article in the SMT, ATCAA Fast Internet?… NOT! First, let me say that I am glad Marv is back in the SMT – we’ve missed him! Second, I am hoping you will print this in its entirety, Thomas, so folks get a little more info. 

What ran in Byte Me about ATCAA’s efforts to expand Broadband here was technically correct, but could use a little “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say, for the benefit of SMT readers and historians in general. 

When the county first began to look into expanding Broadband with Broadband advocates in 2007, it was clear that we had an information gap on where Broadband existed, who was using it, what expansion capabilities were, etc. While a number of us were pursuing the company that initially came and made a presentation on one expansion concept, there was resistance from private ISP companies and from county staff. The private ISPs didn’t want the county to take on the expansion – they felt the private sector is the appropriate vehicle – and county staff (rightly so) advocated for getting answers to the info gaps listed above before beginning to build. 

Superimposed on these was the announcement that the California Emerging Technologies Foundation (CETF) grant program had opened and was offering rural areas the opportunity to expand Broadband networks over multi-county regions. ATCAA was applying for a grant to expand their Info-Net system and the county was pretty well occupied with other pressing concerns at the time. The county couldn’t devote staff time to take on the Broadband project, but we had been talking to CETF about funding a Broadband expansion project here. So CETF asked ATCAA to expand their Info-Net application to do the necessary study and evaluation of the gaps with the informal understanding that implementation dollars would “quite likely” follow at the end of the study period. 

ATCAA graciously agreed, assigned Michelle Shelton to the project, and she formed a 5-county work group to help. Funds were received to begin the study – called the aggregation of information study – in the first months of 2008. The county joined that work group and the torch for leading the Broadband expansion effort was passed to ATCAA. We continued speaking of the effort as the “expansion of Broadband” because although the ATCAA grant was for a study, it has always been understood by work group participants, ATCAA, and the county that the building phase would follow. 

Shortly after the study funds were received by ATCAA, the California Public Utilities Commission announced an offering of $100 million in grant funds to communications companies to expand telecommunications and Broadband services in underserved areas. Local ISPs and other telephone companies applied for these funds to expand their networks. Michelle was helpful to them in putting together information and applications, although the ATCAA study was still in the early stages. In the meantime, Michelle began leveraging other opportunities – including getting folks trained to teach others to use the Internet – and watching for new funding to expand the Broadband system. 

In the sense that local ISPs have been participating in the ATCAA study work group and Michelle has continued looking for implementation dollars for them we have continued to refer to the effort as an “ATCAA effort to expand Broadband.” However, the private sector’s efforts to expand Broadband in the region have really taken off as a result (see the list below). Since the announcement of the availability of stimulus dollars for Broadband, CETF has turned to ATCAA and Michelle for a list of “shovel ready” expansion projects that can be taken on right away. In the last few weeks, ATCAA has worked to encourage a number of different ISP and technology folks to put together a list that is supported by the CETF and, if funded by the federal government, could bring Broadband expansion to the 5-county region and – importantly to District 3 residents – up the Hwy 108 Corridor from Twain Harte to Strawberry! 

Off the top of my head, here are some of the private sector Broadband expansion efforts now in process or planned: 

  • Mother Lode Internet – California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) application submitted, June 2008, multiple areas in county;
  • Golden State Cellular – California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) application submitted, June 2008, multiple areas in county;
  • AT&T, multiple areas in county;
  • Wild Blue satellite services (Phoenix Lake area);
  • Throckmorton Enterprises (Lake Don Pedro and other areas);
  • “Nameless entrepreneurs,” Hwy 108 Corridor, seeking stimulus funds;
  • Open Range Communications, Phoenix Lake and Cedar Ridge areas, using funding from the USDA’s Rural Development Utilities Program (RDUP); and
  • Comcast, existing system upgrade by December 2011 is likely to provide bundled packages of expanded cable and high speed internet service.

 Had the original Broadband group (those who began meeting with the consultants in 2007) not advocated so strongly and had ATCAA not stepped up to take on this study, I don’t believe we would be seeing such a strong demonstration of interest. My confidence (and county staff’s as well) is that the ATCAA study will result directly and indirectly in the expansion of Broadband (much sooner than any of us believed possible due to the availability of state and federal funding). Importantly and appropriately though, that expansion will be accomplished by various private companies, not by the county or ATCAA. The number of companies pursuing Broadband expansion in this area will encourage competition among companies and benefit customers.

 So to summarize, Marv wrote a good article that is technically correct, but a conclusion that Broadband expansion won’t happen for a long time and that no one is leading the charge is not a complete picture. ATCAA has been and will continue to be a lightning rod to attract additional state and federal investment in our region. Michelle Shelton has been the catalyst to move the effort forward and we at the county are very grateful for her leadership. 

How about when the grant and stimulus dollars are awarded, you do a follow up on where Broadband will be expanded, by whom, what ATCAA’s role was in advancing the projects, and what the timelines are. I think SMT readers will be surprised and pleased. Thanks for helping me get out “the rest of the story!

Teri

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I like going places: out West, west of the West, and all the way around the back of the globe to the East. I like to go by train, plane, automobile, horseback. Whatever. And I like writing about what I see, feel, hear, smell, and touch all along the way and once I get there.

8 thoughts on “ATCAA role in local Broadband expansion significant

  1. Hmmm… that’s a question for the companies. What I can say is that if you want better access to Broadband, let those companies know where you live and what you want. At this point, I am not aware of any DSL expansion plans in the Cedar Ridge area, but hey, it sounds like pretty much anything would be an improvement for you!

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  2. Terri, Thanks for "the rest of the story". As a realtor and living in Strawberry I have had several calls asking about this story and what it may mean to people on the mountain.
    Chucker

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    1. You bet, Chucker! Unless the 108 Corridor all the way up to Strawberry (and beyond, when we can) is served, I won’t feel we’ve achieved what we set out to do in expansion of Broadband. There are many folks who live in the high country full time (and many who visit whenever they can) that would be well served by an expansion up there. Our businesses would benefit up there too!

      Enjoy another beautiful and sunshiney day up there today! Teri

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  3. While I can understand people's frustration with the slow pace of progress around the deployment of broadband Internet access, there is progress nonetheless. As one of those who has been involved in this process since its early days, I can tell you that it will require a complex solution with many moving parts. When the California Emerging Technologies Fund (CETF) was formed, I was all for getting ahold of some money and building stuff. However, I reluctantly concluded that it made more sense to study the problem first and if CETF was willing to pony up a chunk of change for that purpose, so much the better. Following the acceptance of the "Aggragation of Information" study, they will very likely provide even more funding for the implementation phase.

    Michelle Shelton and the Amador-Tuolumne County Action Agency (A-TCAA) have put an amazing amount of time and energy into bringing this project to our county. With the new stimulus bill offering Federal money for broadband and associated services, A-TCAA's efforts have put us in a much stronger position to receive additional funds for these badly needed services.

    Thanks, Teri for writing up such a comprehensive history of the process so far.

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    1. I agree, Greg. Since you were around when the effort began, I appreciate your weighing in. It hasn’t turned out like we originally conceptualized it, but it just may be better!

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  4. As Co-Chairman of the CSC Executive Council, and an evangelist for a Regional BB solution for the Yosemite area for the past 4 years through my work in various organizations, I want to second Greg's comments and the correctness of what Teri's blog comments clarified. I would also offer another specific example of how CSC's work on demand aggregation directly related to improving our chances for securing funding for high speed internet in our area. Until I corrected the CPUC database listing for my district in Mariposa County, we held less chance of being considered as a primary location for funding support. Now, with the CPUC's response in listing the area ( 95311 ) as "unserved" any grant application seeking funds to provide service to this area will be given a higher priority rating. This is the kind of work that CSC has been doing. The conclusions offered in the article that CSC was a waste of money were erroneous and misleading.

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    1. Based on a conversation with him, I don’t think Marv intended folks to reach that conclusion. He hadn’t been actively involved since we were talking about the county implementing a system and may not have been aware that the “plan” had morphed from an orderly progression to something not unlike the Oklahoma Land Rush! OK, so that’s probably an exaggeration, but it provides an interesting mental image of what’s taking place with stimulus $$ possibly available now, no?

      The underlying misunderstanding was more a matter of the county and ATCAA realizing that there are going to be phases to expanding Broadband and that private companies will be doing the implementation and thinking everyone was tracking with the process. We knew what we were talking about, but others didn’t. Marv’s printing my response and more observations soon, I understand.

      By the way, I’m really glad you caught that CPUC mis-categorization! Thanks!

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