The September 19 Broadband Forum held at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop attracted 120 participants.
Excitement is high for the way the new Digital 395 fiber optic network will revolutionize the Internet for use by businesses, schools, homes, and even the local internet service providers along the U.S. 395 corridor.
Inyo County CAO Kevin Carunchio offered a brief welcoming message before introducing the chairman for the Eastern Sierra Connect Regional Broadband Consortium, Mono County Information Technology guru (Director) Nate Greenberg and 1st District Inyo County Supervisor Linda Arcularius.
Arcularius evoked laughter when she compared the pioneering spirit of the first Inyo County settlers crossing the mountains to begin new lives to the present day effort of overcoming the mountains of paperwork and regulatory difficulties faced by those working on the broadband project.
Michael Ort, President and CEO at Praxis Associates, Inc., the company responsible for the oversight of the new backhaul, fiber network system, spoke to the incredible possibilities it will provide to all those it serves. He described its capacity as one that will likely never be exceeded well into the future.
That is a good thing considering the project’s service area is, according to the California Broadband Cooperative’s website, a network that encompasses 36 communities, six Indian reservations, two military bases, 26,000 households and 2,500 businesses. In addition, 35 public safety entities, 47 K-12 schools, 13 libraries, two community colleges, two universities, 15 healthcare facilities and 104 government offices will also be served, as well as the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Lab, the White Mountain Research Station and the California Institute of Technology Owens Valley Radio Observatory. All that with enough capacity left over to lease unused, high-capacity fiber known as dark (unused) fiber to other wholesale users in the future.
After describing some of the challenges with approvals on National Forest Service permits, which recently slowed progress but are now resolved, Ort told the audience that Bishop will very soon be onboard with other towns and communities as soon as testing the “last mile” infrastructure is in place. That infrastructure is all ready to go in the Bishop area for many residents thanks to Suddenlink’s ambitious efforts to upgrade its system in anticipation of the new fiber optic network. An interesting side-story to the fiber network is that its monitoring capability for the system can be used to detect ground vibrations, giving it the ability to serve as an earthquake monitor.
The network, said Ort, should be completely up and running by no later than November, bringing new, better jobs and more visitors to the area. Mobile devices should also be greatly enhanced once telecommunication companies such as Verizon and AT&T express interest in the system.
Ort felt that the hospitality industry would greatly benefit from the improvements in bandwidth, as will the advertising and the recreation industry when it becomes available coupled with wireless access. Ort promised that the backhaul network would stay on the cutting edge and hoped to serve top-tier users.
The first panel of the forum featured educators speaking on the opportunities for broadband in education. Deanna Campbell from Cerro Coso Community College told the gathering that the new fiber optic system would greatly enhance the ability for outreach and improve the Internet experience for students and staff alike, offering additional access to shop for classes. She cautioned that access is not the end-all answer to education, but another valuable tool when used correctly.
Inyo County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Terry McAteer, stole the show by sharing some very interesting and exciting news. A leader in promoting access to the latest technologies to students that they will need to succeed in the future in both education and the workplace, McAteer noted that many students and families simply do not have access to the Internet. So his office spent $300,000 to provide iPod Touch devices to all students in the K-2 grades last year throughout the county and this year is spending another $300,000 to purchase and provide 730 Acer laptops to 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students within the next month. This will be followed next by the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students, and finally laptops will be provided to all high school student, containing everything they will need, including all their textbooks, to prepare for the future in a world of ever-expanding technology.
These efforts will make Inyo County the first county in California in which every student will have a laptop and high-speed Wi-Fi access in their schools. A recent UC Irvine study has shown a 25% increase already in educational test scores with the use of laptops. The technology purchases were made possible, according to McAteer, thanks to the revenue generated through the administration of 23 charter schools in Southern California which are overseen under contract to the state by the Inyo County Office of Education.
As if that was not enough, ICOE has also provided new computers to all the county libraries to improve access for students and families and it is looking into providing Wi-Fi access throughout the main corridor in Bishop as well.
Nancy Masters, Inyo County Library Director, stated that high-speed Internet is now available at all 6 library branches and that Wi-Fi access is available so that students can perform their educational activities when not in their school. The library system will provide access to databases and e-books, along with a host of other applications found on their website such as Mango Languages.
The Director of the Bishop Paiute Headstart Program, Susie Cisneros, said their key objectives are to involve families in a diverse learning experience and to have a computer library, asking that anyone wishing to donate a computer to please contact them.
Some concern was expressed by a forum participant that all the new access to technology will make students become even more “disengaged” from face-to-face interpersonal skills, and that social etiquette needs to become part of the technology. McAteer addressed the issue by saying that the K-2 iPod program had parent trainings and workshops on how to best use the devices and avoid problems, while the students in the 3rd to 5th grades will not be allowed to take laptops home, noting that “Kids need to play.” As for 6 th grade up to high school, McAteer said that Internet safety is important, but students need to take their laptops home to receive the maximum benefit of the technology. High school students’ textbooks will be on the Internet with many of the textbooks including interactive learning programs that go along with them.
The second panel addressed business development opportunities. It was announced at the beginning that there will be a ten-week Small Business Development Resources class offered through Cerro Coso Community College specifically targeting business owners unfamiliar with the use of the Internet.
Crowdfunding was discussed as a way to raise capital for new startups citing an example of a group initially attempting to raise $100,000 in seed money to build a “Dick Tracy”-style smartwatch using a website called Kickstarter. Instead of $100,000, they raised $10 million in one month. And in another piece of interesting news it was announced that the Federal regulators will soon allow small businesses to sell shares of their business.
Nate Greenberg spoke on local businesses making greater use of Internet shopping opportunities which increased 15% last year to the tune of $186 billion. Tech savvy consumers are increasingly using the Internet to research products, make comparisons, and find low prices. “It is vital that businesses have a basic online e-commerce presence even if it is only a simple brochure-style website,” said Greenberg. He noted that, “While consumers are going online, they still make 88% of their purchases offline.”
In a nod to social media, Greenberg encouraged business owners to also “leverage other websites such Facebook, Yelp, Trip Advisors and others that allow users to make recommendations on products and businesses, directing traffic to their business.”
“We need to market our regions unique resources, offering free public Wi-Fi to promote, maintain, and expand our businesses,” said Greenberg, “So fully embrace the new technology and the opportunities it provides.”
Rod Blair of Sportogo & Spacetronlaser spoke on how to bring technology ideas to market, stressing how important it is to protect your ideas and intellectual property through registering trademarks and applying for patents, while protecting trade secrets. He noted that it has been made much less expensive to apply for a new patent. It is easier and less expensive than ever to bring prototypes of products to market using new Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology which is an additive manufacturing technology commonly used for modeling, prototyping, and production applications. “FDM technology,” he said, “reduces the costs and time to production from many months or even years, down to a fraction of the time.”
In the afternoon session, the City of Bishop Public Works Director David Grah spoke about the way government can better serve the public using technology to provide greater interaction and access to public meetings. He observed that at the City Hall, “We sometimes have just 5-10 members of the public attending. Having public meetings online would greatly improve both access and participation.”
Steve Blum of Tellus Venture Associates addressed the value of local public policy development in creating opportunities far into the future. Stating that “Conduit is gold!” and that Public Works departments are best at leading the way on many of the projects. Blum noted that “if there is something they [Public Works] know and do well, it is digging holes and knowing what is beneath the ground in local communities.” He stressed the importance of a “Dig Once” policy that provides that any time a street is opened up, the local city or county should lay empty conduit for future use simply because it saves a lot of taxpayer money down the road, noting that there is a 10:1 cost advantage to “Dig Once” policies.
Technology is rapidly advancing the point where our machines, appliances, and mobile-to-mobile devices will “talk to each other” said Blum, and “radios will be in everything.” All this will change how we live and interact with our environment at home and work. It will encourage telecommuting and increase how government can provide greater access to services.
The Internet Service Panel allowed local ISP providers Schat.net, Suddenlink, Lone Pine TV, and IWVISP in Ridgecrest to discuss how they have already prepared for or will be connecting customers to the new fiber network. Suddenlink’s Jason Oelkers said they have been making preparations for months and that Mammoth Lakes is already up and running, and they expect Bishop to begin testing the final mile connections this week. For information on the other service providers, customers should contact them directly as they are in varying stages of preparation, but it all sounded as if they are ready to move forward quickly as the network becomes available to them.
All-in-all the ESCBRC Forum was successful and well-planned. It provided those attending with a great deal of information on how to make the best use of the Digital 395 broadband network.
For more information, please contact the ESCBRC office at 760.463.1261 or visit www.escrbconsortium.org.