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!