“The Digital 395 is the single most important thing done in this county in several decades,” stated Sierra Business Council President Steve Frisch as he presented the findings from SBC’s recent publication “Eastern Sierra Innovation and Prosperity: An Industry Cluster Approach to Economic Sustainability in California’s Inyo and Mono Counties” to the Mono County Board of Supervisors.
Editor’s note: Judging by the report’s title, we hope Frisch gets paid by the word
While the road out of the recession is still looking slow and painful, according to Frisch, the time to plan for economic development his now. The implementation of D395 should put Inyo and Mono counties in a good position when the economy returns as long as the County has its ducks in a row when it comes to items such as agreements with last mile providers.
“Customer decisions are being driven by online research,” Frisch said of the benefit of better online accessibility in the Eastern Sierra. “People will research items online and then if it’s found locally they will purchase locally.”
In other words, businesses should study online trends to find out what to carry in their stores.
Frisch also pointed out the benefit of social media to create a direct relationship with customers. By interacting with customers through social media, as well as studying what visitors to your website are looking at, businesses can drive people to the specific assets they would be interested in.
Frisch said he also found that there was a high level of discontent with customer service levels in the area.
“With high-speed internet comes access to online training tools,” he pointed out.
Additionally, D395 is expected to open the door to allow more internet-based businesses to come to the area.
Frisch warned, however, that the County needs to have its zoning ordinances and policies in place for whatever strategies it plans to pursue, which means that if it wants D395 to be a useful tool, it needs to nail down its expectations for last mile providers completing the D395 infrastructure.
Giving the last mile providers details on exactly what is expected in the connection process will help move the D395 implementation along and make the best use of D395.
D395 Project Manager Nate Greenberg is currently working on getting these expectations nailed down, so that when the time comes Mono County can provide the best service possible to the largest number of constituents.
“The providers are not clear on the County’s intentions,” Greenberg explained of the situation at this time.
The providers are those companies that will need to make the connection between the D395 backbone to the customer’s home. As Greenberg described it, they are “like the off-ramp from the freeway.”
What the County needs to develop in the near future is a common operating picture for development, implementation, and management of broadband; consistent set of standards that can be applied to broadband, and an agreed upon set of long-term goals with short-term process to achieve them.
Providers may need some incentive to connect underserved communities such as Twin Lakes, in addition to the well-served and high valued communities such as Mammoth.
One bargaining chip that Greenberg believes the Board should leave on the table is the possibility to connect via overhead cable versus underground.
“Requiring some communities to go underground would take them off the list [of service],” Greenberg explained. “It’s an issue of cost versus the value of the community being served for the last mile providers.”
In an area such as Mammoth where the provider can expect to have many customers, the costs of the installation would be returned quickly, whereas other more remote communities would cost a lot to connect and may not see a return on investment for some time.
The cost of overhead cables is much lower than underground and that process could utilize existing utility poles.
The Board of Supervisors, however, would still like to see the priority placed on underground cables to preserve the scenic qualities of the county.
“Applicants should be asked to justify why they would need to go overhead or use wire instead of fiber optic,” said Supervisor Hap Hazard. “We can’t let providers come in and cherry pick an area. They have to help the entire county.”