County preps for Internet service providers
As bandwidth continues to be a hot commodity and service providers put a hold on new Internet accounts, the Eastern Sierra’s need for digital infrastructure is becoming desperate.
Rather than sit idly, the Mono County Board of Supervisors chose to busy itself on March 20 with its own digital infrastructure updates during a presentation from County staff. It was an effort to get organized so that once Digital 395 goes online and Internet service flows freely through the Eastside, the County is prepared for Internet service providers (ISP) that may want to jump on the bandwagon and provide last-mile service.
Digital 395, or D395, is the project building a new 583-mile fiber network that will mainly follow the U.S. 395. Conduit and cable placement construction is expected to start in April.
As it has often been described, Digital 395 will act as the “backbone” of Internet service running up and down the Eastern Sierra, allowing for faster broadband.
“Service providers are the nerves,” added Mono County Deputy Counsel, John-Carl Vallejo. These nerves connect D395 to people’s homes.
These service providers must be awarded a state franchise in order to provide services under AB 2987, the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 (DIVCA), Vallejo continued. When the DIVCA took effect, state law for these types of service providers superseded city and county laws that had previously managed these franchises. Cities and counties do, however, do still retain some decision-making authority.
Last year when Suddenlink acquired NPG, it was also awarded a state video franchise. The term video refers to cable television. At that time, the County received a letter from the state explaining that the franchise had been awarded and that the County should “determine what, if any actions it would take pursuant to the authority provided under the state video franchise statute.”
At its meeting on March 20, the Board heard from Vallejo on the actions that it can pursue when dealing with providers both in video and digital infrastructure. The discussion quickly focused on digital infrastructure and D395.
According to Vallejo, the County will be able to weigh in on fees, rights of way, public educational and government channels (PEG channels), and penalties for a franchise holders’ failure to adhere to cable provider requirements.
These decisions directly link to D395 because when it comes time for last mile providers to branch out from the D395 backbone, they will be crossing their cables over County land and rights of way. While the County will still be able to require these providers to go through the encroachment permitting process, it will not be allowed to have exclusive franchises anywhere in the County.
“All franchises need to be treated equally,” Vallejo explained.
Which is why the County is updating its code to reflect the DIVCA changes, and working to determine its fee and fine structures. In the end it should provide one clear set of rules for all service providers to adhere by.
Eastern Sierra Connect
Following Vallejo’s presentation, representatives of Eastern Sierra Connect introduced themselves to the Board. While not directly related to D395 or to the franchise discussion at hand, Eastern Sierra Connect is another player in the local quest for digital infrastructure.
Eastern Sierra Connect (ESC) is a project of the Desert Mountain Resource Conservation and Development Council. Its goal, according to its website, is to “evaluate existing broadband infrastructure and potential future through a demand aggregation project in Mono, Inyo and Eastern Kern counties.”
It is aimed at encouraging existing and potential providers to build local broadband for unserved and underserved Eastern Sierra communities.
ESC will be working to bring the last-mile providers to the table in order to help them access a large bucket of California Public Utilities Company (CPUC) money available for building infrastructure projects.
“We need to educate the public and the providers,” said ESC Committee Member Danna Stroud.
Grant funding is not reliant on D395, but according to Stroud that project “makes us more appealing to providers.”
Stroud described ESC’s work as a “positioning exercise.” She explained that providers applying for the CPUC funding don’t need projects that would be implemented right away, but need to get in the door, and in line.
“We need to make ourselves competitive with other consortiums throughout the state,” Stroud said. There are 13 other consortiums like ESC in California.
“Eastern Sierra Connect is doing what the County would end up having to do,” Vallejo explained.
“The County wants someone in place as an interim contact for broadband activity,” Stroud added.
ESC recently received a $450,000 grant from CPUC for its operational costs.
ESC requested that a member of County staff be appointed to its committee. Since it was not part of the agenda item, the appointment will be discussed again at the Tuesday, April 3 BOS meeting.
Vallejo plans to bring the code changes related to the state franchise agreements back before the Board in the near future.