Group looks to connect broadband users and providers
Digital 395 may be on its way in two years, but the work of Eastern Sierra Connect (ESC) has just begun, reported ESC Consultant Susan Estrada at Thursday’s Broadband Forum held in the USFS Visitors Center auditorium.
ESC’s goal as a “broadband demand aggregation project” is to “encourage existing and potential providers to build local broadband to unserved and underserved communities in the Eastern Sierra region.” These potential providers may use the Digital 395 ‘backbone’ when it is completed, but first they have to be convinced of need and demand.
One of ESC’s efforts thus far has been to correct inaccurate official maps of the region from the California Public Utilities Commission that overstate broadband availability. “We’ve found you can divide what service the maps advertise by three to get the actual existing service,” said Estrada. The maps are important because they determine funding eligibility. Estrada added, “If the maps are wrong, you can’t get money for underserved areas.”
ESC has also recently conducted a survey to determine the level of connectivity enjoyed by Eastside residents, and the amount they would be willing to pay for greater connectivity. Estrada reported that of the 777 people who completed the survey, only 29 respondents indicated broadband connectivity that meets the Federal Communications Commission’s current standard of 1-megabit upload and 4-megabits download. That means less than 4% of the entire region has adequate service. Nearly 50% of those same respondents said they would be willing to pay $30-49/month for high-speed access.
“With most growing industry segments, like science and technology, professional and business services, and manufacturing, you can see how internet technology would be a benefit,” Estrada said of ESC’s focus on bringing more high-speed broadband to the area.
One audience member pointed out the importance of reliable broadband in the home as well, given home-based businesses. Deanna Ing Campbell, Director – Eastern Sierra College Center also noted the increasing importance of high speed internet to education. “Higher education now includes online courses with things like video streaming,” she said. “Not being able to access this excludes a large portion of the community from higher education.”
Estrada expressed hope that those assembled at the forum would use ESC data when going after broadband funding. Even so, she cautioned, “You can aggregate all the demand you want in a region like this, and it still isn’t enough to get providers excited. It’s like you’re just not pretty enough to be asked to prom tonight. Either you have to get prettier, or get your guns out.” For more, visit the ESC website at sites.google.com/site/dmrcandd.