Digital 395 pushes back against push back
“I’m impressed with the persistence of Praxis,” Nate Greenberg, Digital 395 Project Manager for Mono County stated at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting in Mammoth.
Greenberg was referring to the way in which the company responsible for managing the installation of the much-anticipated Digital 395 has continued to persevere in its efforts even as hurdles continue to get in its way.
The project has yet to break ground inside of Mono County. While it has received a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) in the Inyo National Forest and the Humboldt/Toiyabe National Forest, the project is currently waiting on the completion of comment periods for these FONSIs.
The comment period on the INF FONSI was expected to end on July 19, and according to Greenberg, as of Tuesday had yet to receive any comments.
The Humboldt/Toiyabe FONSI, which deals with cultural issues for some of the project sites, comment period runs into August, but Praxis is hoping to be allowed to begin work while this comment period is still in progress, Greenberg said.
“It’s a shell game trying to determine where they can actually begin work,” Greenberg said in a follow-up phone call. “They don’t want to have to work on one mile and move, they would rather be able to lay a 10-mile stretch [rather than hopping around].”
Praxis is still pushing to begin moving dirt by the end of the month.
“Mike [Ort – CEO of Praxis] said if it’s not going by the end of the month he’s going out himself with a pick,” Greenberg told the Board, only half joking since the project must be completed by the end of July 2013 in accordance with the grant money it is receiving.
D395 NOT the complete package
Contrary to what many think about the Digital 395 project, its completion will not automatically mean that remote communities that have either no internet or underserved internet services will suddenly be connected or improved.
D395 is a middle mile project, which means it will provide a 583-mile backbone of Internet cable. In order for a community in Mono County such as Twin Lakes to actually be able to tap into this backbone, last mile providers will still need to run cable from the backbone to the community.
Which is why Greenberg is beginning to develop a county plan that will help set guidelines and standards for last mile providers who want to help build out the service.
“We need to be able to evaluate providers in a fair and reasonable way,” Greenberg explained to the Board during a workshop on Tuesday.
He continued by saying that he hoped to be able to create a “carrot and stick scenario” to entice providers to come into “low value communities where return on investment won’t be huge.”
Greenberg casually threw out the example of allowing air wires rather than underground wires in communities such as these where there are already existing overhead wire rights of way. Allowing overhead wires would be more cost effective for a last mile provider and may entice them to connect the community when they otherwise would not.
Following the comment, the workshop went a little sideways.
Rather than focus on a plan for last-mile providers, Supervisor Larry Johnston focused solely on this example.
“I don’t want to see anything above ground,” Johnston said. “I can’t for the life of me see why people in Florida keep building overhead. They build overhead and everything gets blown down.
“Overhead shouldn’t be considered for anything new,” he continued. “It’s in the General Plan that in Mono County you build underground. We shouldn’t back off on our policies for broadband. A company coming in has to build underground. The County won’t be paying for it.”
Greenberg tried to clarify that staff just “needs to be able to evaluate when it might be appropriate,” but Johnston continued to rant.
“There are those among us that think some places should not have service,” he said. “We should designate some places to have no service. People can’t expect the same level of service throughout the county. Does everyone need streaming video?”
Greenberg tried to rein the conversation in and pointed out that overhead wires were just one of the issues being identified.
“We do still have to wait and see what the demand is,” Greenberg agreed. “Do people in Twin Lakes even want internet? We don’t know yet. We are simply trying to be proactive in preparing a plan to have in place when it is time to work with last mile providers.”
Supervisor Byng Hunt went off onto a tangent of his own, asking why last mile connections couldn’t be done using satellite technology.
Greenberg said there were some satellite options out there but that they would not be able to provide the capacity Mono County will need.
Greenberg said he hoped to get something out to providers in September in order to allow them to decide whether or not they would be interested in a project and have time to go after funding for such a project.