Gold Country Broadband Consortium continues effort to reach underserved areas

By: Gloria Young,
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SEDCorp’s Gold Country Broadband Consortium has scheduled two community meetings in February. The meetings offer an opportunity to talk to Internet providers in the local service area.

The consortium will meet from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the Greenwood Community Center, 4401 Highway 193, Greenwood. The next meeting will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, at Wooman School, 13075 Woolman Lane in Nevada City.

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Broadband Consortium Grant Program

The purpose of the California Public Utilities Commission’s Rural and Urban Broadband Consortium Grant Program is to identify and eliminate barriers to the ubiquitous availability of advanced telecommunications services in California

With the grants, various consortia activities will promote and advance broadband deployment, access, and adoption by:

Increasing sustainability of broadband infrastructure and projects;

Promoting broadband deployment (availability) for residences in California;

Promoting broadband access and adoption (knowledge of service options and ability to utilize services as well as subscription of services) for residences in California;

Increasing the rate of broadband adoption by facilitating the impact of consumer education, outreach and training; and

Supporting those community-based parties, especially anchor institutions that are working to increase deployment, access, and adoption.

~ CPUC spokesman Christopher Chow


More than nGline months of effort putting Internet service providers together with residents of small communities is paying off for the Gold Country Broadband Consortium with an increase in neighborhood meetings.

“There are two more meetings in the next couple of weeks (in Nevada City and Greenwood) and two more in the hopper,” said Brent Smith, CEO of Sierra Economic Development Corporation in Auburn, which created the consortium and runs it.

Smith doesn’t have the numbers for people served and those who go on to actually get broadband but said that’s a future goal.

The consortium, one of 14 throughout the state, is funded under a contract with the California Public Utilities Commission to expand broadband service into rural, underserved areas.

“It’s a three-year project,” Smith said. “As word gets out about the Gold Country Broadband Consortium and SEDCorp doing this, (demand is growing) and people are asking when (there’s going to be a meeting) in their neighborhood. … As long as we have folks willing to organize their neighbors and tell us where to go to organize a meeting — (such as a) grange hall or school — then get word out to neighbors and make it convenient for them to attend, they can come and participate and hear what the ISPs have to say and then take it from there. It is a free market approach and it works pretty well.”

The CPUC approved $1,669,895 for the first seven broadband deployment consortia in December 2011. It approved additional projects, including the Gold Country Broadband Consortium, in February 2012, boosting the one-year program budget to $2,719,413. The consortia projects are eligible for second- and third-year budget renewals, subject to conditions, CPUC spokesman Christopher Chow said in an email.

“High speed Internet access is key to enabling the people of California and our state to compete in the 21st century, Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval said in the email. “The work of the broadband consortia, such as the Gold Country Broadband Consortium, will ensure that more Californians throughout our large and diverse state have access to and use broadband Internet connections. We look forward to reports on the fruits of the consortium’s labor to help Californians prosper.”

In the Gold Country region, smaller ISPs have welcomed participation, taking advantage of the gatherings to explain what they provide, cost and schedule of installations.

“In Applegate, the conversations continued after the official meeting,” Smith said. “We were trying to close the meeting hall and discussions continued in the parking lot.”

But not all ISPs have been receptive.

“The one exception is that we had optimistically hoped for more interaction with the big Internet service providers — AT&T, Verizon and Sprint — because, in the state’s view, the 3G and 4G service they provide is part of the mix,” Smith said. “Each of them serves these areas and a lot of people use their services.”

In fact, the consortium canceled its quarterly meeting in Auburn after AT&T, Sprint and Verizon didn’t acknowledge invitations to discuss their services at the meeting.

SEDCorp’s consortium’s coverage area is Placer, Nevada, El Dorado, Sierra and (a portion of) Alpine counties. In mid-January Smith spent some time in Alpine County, which at 15 percent unemployment is in need of programs that create jobs. That’s another goal of the consortium — to create the opportunity for home-based businesses to provide broadband service.

As the state-wide program reaches its one-year milestone, representatives from each of the 14 groups will meet in March to “compare notes” and discuss progress.

“We’ll get a presentation from the CPUC on what’s happening on regulations and a demonstration of the state’s ever-improving mapping capability,” Smith said.

Mapping has been a major focus for Smith to gather what he refers to as “ground truth” data. His effort has been so successful that Gold Country Broadband has been tasked to provide a demonstration on that topic at the consortia meeting, he said.

Getting broadband to residents who don’t have it is not just about giving them the ability to download Netflix and surf the Web.

“The consortia effort is giving them more good reasons (why they need broadband) — (such as) the amount of medical care service being made available via the Internet and increasing every day, and the increasing amount of public services from our (federal, state and local) governments,” he said.

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