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Sonoma County increases rural area internet access

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Sonoma County increases rural area internet access

Rural Sonoma County is home to many small businesses whether entrepreneurs working from home or small businesses located in rural communities. Internet access is essential to doing business so increasing availability has been a necessary art of serving our business community. Also, as landlines fail more frequently in rural communities, and hills and valleys interfere with radio transmissions. the internet has become the way emergency services reaches people and communities in need.

Supervisor Carrillo, serving as Sonoma County’s Oversight Committee representative for the  North Bay/North Coast Broadband Consortium, was asked to comment on Sonoma County’s progress in closing the digital divide.  His comments follow ~

Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors Efren Carrillo

On Sonoma County: “Internet today is without a doubt, one of most important inventions in recent history and life with broadband access seems unfathomable. Yet for Sonoma County’s rural residents and businesses the struggle to obtain high speed, high quality broadband access continues. For the agricultural community broadband means obtaining timely reports, filing permits online and connecting with regional, national and international markets on a real time basis. For residents broadband connectivity allows for online learning resources for schools and students as well as faster responses for emergencies or accidents. For business owners it allows cost effective interaction with customers, sales development and economic development.”

What Sonoma County is working on: “Access to high quality and affordable broadband remains a major issue for rural areas in the Sonoma County. In response in 2013, the Sonoma County Economic Development Board formed Access Sonoma Broadband (ASB). The ASB has advocated for rural broadband deployment by working with broadband providers, residents and businesses. Speed testing, engineering and cost analysis for fiber projects was completed for targeted priority communities including Joy Rd., Jenner, Cazadero and Dry Creek. The ASB surveyed digital skill/literacy programs and the availability of free public computer access in a report titled “Availability of and Needs for Broadband Adoption Programs in Sonoma County” The ASB continues its work on regional broadband advocacy with the North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium which includes Marin, Napa, Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

As a result of strong community advocacy including the ASB nearly 500 households on Joy Road in Sonoma County will soon get broadband, thanks to a $7.7 million infrastructure grant from the state Public Utilities Commission’s California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Incumbent providers in the area rejected extending their services to these households. The issue, of course, was cost. Internet service providers did not see an investment in the area as financially worthy. The only way was to get the project done was to apply for infrastructure grant money from the CASF and create a public-private infrastructure project.

Since December 2007, the state Legislature has authorized the CPUC to collect several pennies per month on Californians’ phone bills to go toward broadband infrastructure investments in unserved and underserved areas. To date, the California Advanced Services Fund has connected more than 300,000 households in the state to broadband. Without the fund, the greater Joy Road area might have been severed from our digital economy for much longer. And without the fund, Race Communications, a small California internet service provider, could not afford the cost of providing broadband infrastructure to Joy Road.”