While some areas in Mono County, such as Mammoth Lakes, can expect broadband improvement in the next few weeks due to Digital 395, other areas in the County will have to slog along slowly for a bit longer.
Digital 395, the Middle Mile project building a new 583-mile, fiber network that mainly follows the U.S. 395 highway, broke ground in the second half of 2012. The project’s service area encompasses 36 communities, six Indian reservations and two military bases, according to the Digital 395 website. “Unused, high-capacity fiber will be available to the region’s last mile providers to expand or enhance service to households and businesses; as well as to government agencies or carriers seeking local or long-haul transport.”
The project’s initial date of completion was July 31 in accordance with deadlines created by some of its funding sources, including federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding. However, some of the challenges encountered along the way have caused enough of a delay that Praxis, the company serving as project manager for Digital 395 requested a time extension from the federal government.
According to Mono County Digital 395 Project Manager, Nate Greenberg, the time extension has been granted. The goal is to have work done before the winter so as to not have to carry anything over into next spring.
“We’ve had to pull the throttle back on the project for the past month because I want to make sure we hit our budget,” Michael Ort, Praxis CEO explained to the Mono County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “We’re on budget except for $25 million on environmentals for cultural sites. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just expensive.”
Ort was referring to the extra studies and permits required for sites along the path of the Digital 395 installation deemed to potentially contain archeological artifacts and needing further study.
According to Greenberg, there is also a request in to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which is a ratepayer fund from the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) that is dedicated to broadband deployment and adoption.
One reason for the requested additional funding is an issue that arose in June Lake.
“With respect to the poles, which affect June Lake, and the Benton Tribe, a ‘load test’ has to be performed on the poles to make sure that the added weight or strain of a new line on them would not result in them breaking under wind load, etc.,” Greenberg told The Sheet. “The values that are used as coefficients are determined by the CPUC, and recently they were increased due to concern of many poles in Calif. being overloaded and the resulting impact on pole failure. Since this change was made during the time period between when the D395 project got approved and when construction began, the expectation that Praxis had to use those poles for overhead routes was derailed. As such, Praxis is going back to request additional money to construct those segments underground, as it was a factor beyond their control.”
On the bright side, Ort said just about everything is “green,” which means the cable is in.
“We should have service in Mammoth by the end of July or the beginning of August, which will bring relief to broadband in Mammoth,” Ort said. “Following that we’ll be in Bishop.”
Ort did acknowledge the importance of end-to-end continuity of the project. “We can’t provide services without this,” he said. “It creates vulnerability at both ends.”
Supervisor Fred Stump agreed and said a lack of continuity “fractures the county.”
A weary-looking Ort said he understood the needs of the County and looked forward to the project’s completion.
In other broadband news, Swall Meadows resident Stephen Kalish reported that Verizon DSL service “lit up” at his home late in the morning on Tuesday, July 16 with initial download speeds of 2.85 Mbps, and upload of 0.79 Mbps.
Verizon was hit with the requirement to provide broadband service to Crowley and Swall back in 2011 after it violated the Scenic Byway laws requiring all communications or electric utility facilities within 1,000 feet be placed underground. Verizon had deployed 32,000 feet of aboveground fiber optic cable along scenic U.S. 395 in Mono County without receiving a variance from the CPUC.