There are many virtues of living in rural California – the natural beauty, the famous California weather, and the quiet of country living. One downside of living in rural California, however, is not always being able to get a reliable high speed connection to the Internet. In 2007, the Governor’s Broadband Task Force found that most of California has access to fast Internet, which we call “broadband”, but 2,000 communities in rural and remote California had no access to broadband at all. And many other communities only had very slow broadband speeds that could not handle downloads of video or audio clips from popular websites. Also, the Task Force found that some pockets of urban/suburban communities had no or very slow broadband. California set out to try and close the “Digital Divide” to get these “Digital Have Not” communities hooked up. In the last two years, the California PUC has been working through its California Advanced Services Fund to get these communities connected to the Internet. This Fund offers a grant of 40% of the project cost to any broadband provider who is willing to bring fast Internet service to these communities.
The broadband effort got a shot in the arm from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which set aside over $7 million for broadband projects across America. Given California had already been working on broadband since 2006, the Golden State has been very active in proposing projects to the two federal agencies – Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture — who are handing out the broadband grants.
In Round 1 of the ARRA grants, California received about $40 million for broadband projects impacting our state, although some of the funding was for multistate projects. Round 2 grants are now being announced. On August 4th, 2010, California won four more broadband grants from the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service to bring $15 million worth of broadband infrastructure projects to our rural areas. Calaveras Telephone Company will build a Fiber-to-the-Home broadband deployment to its existing customer footprint in Calaveras County. SmarterBroadband will bring high quality fixed wireless service to North East Sacramento. Softcom Internet Communications Inc. will bring broadband availability to a large and underserved Southern Sacramento rural area. Cal-Ore Communications Inc. will bring wireless broadband service to California’s north central Siskiyou County to a mostly unserved area. These broadband projects will benefit 52,800 people, over 8,000 local businesses, and at least 327 community institutions like schools, public libraries, public safety personnel, chambers of commerce, hospitals and health care facilities, local governments, and non profit community organizations.
What is exciting about these projects are the real life impacts it will have on the people, local businesses and community institutions in those areas. School children who never before had access to the Internet will now have the ability to virtually go places like the Louvre, the Smithsonian Museum or the Sacramental Capitol Dome. Local businesses can now compete better and bigger in a world marketplace via new e-commerce websites. Rural health care providers can get needed support and expert advice from urban hospitals via the California Telehealth Network, who is launching its broadband services to fifty pilot health care sites this month.
More broadband ARRA grants are expected to be announced through September 30,2010, so stay tuned!